Our Center for Excellent Teaching without Money sends out a weekly reading with a commentary by one of the supposed experts at the center (people who have never actually taught college courses, of course). This weeks was on the superiority of multiple guess exams, and how it's possible to write really good "distractors" and how you only need three elements in your multiple guess exams, not four or five.
Okay, so I know in big courses instructors feel the need to use multiple guess exams. And, having done quite poorly in my intro zoology course in college on the multiple guess exams, I know they can be really, really hard.
But "distractors." A quick look at a the OED will show that "distract" comes from the Latin past participle "distrahĕre." And a quick look at an on-line Latin dictionary tells me that "trahĕre" means "to pull." So, to distract is to pull apart.
More commonly, though, one distracts in order to move a subject's attention away from where it was, especially if where it was bothers the distractor. So, you distract a toddler's attention from the breakable object they want to play with by waving a toy in front of them. That's benign. Or you bump someone so a third person can pick their pocket. That's less benign.
The thing is, if we're asking students to trust us, then the idea of trying to mislead them, to in a way, trick them, is not what we should be doing. But it's inherent in the way that researchers who study multiple guess type testing think about what they're doing.
I'd never heard the term "distractor" for the wrong answers on a multiple guess exam before, and so I'd never really thought about the term. And as someone who's never written or given a multiple guess exam, I've never thought much about them in that way, either. But now I'm thinking about them, and I'm resenting the zoology class's tests. (Most of my exams weren't multiple guess in college, though I had lectures of 400 people at times. Mostly, I think, some poor grad student or students did the grading.)