Multiple Choice Exam Tips

The ABCs of M.C. exams

There may be nothing else in the world that divides people as much as multiple choice tests. Some students love them for the fact that they give you a chance to get each question correct, even if all you’re doing is taking a shot in the dark. Others despise them, complaining that they test reading comprehension more than conceptual understanding. Like them or not, multiple choice exams are an ever-present reality in the college world. You may as well develop some strategies for dealing with them.

Strategies That Work Better Than “Always Pick C”

The following techniques should help you get past the confusion and pressure associated with multiple choice exams. These tips don’t work in all cases (there’s always going to be that one professor who likes to mess with students’ minds by wording questions in the most confusing way possible), but they serve as a good set of guidelines to follow.

  • Don’t get ahead of yourself. Read the entire question before you look at any of the possible answers. Decide what you think the answer should be. Then, see if it’s one of the options. Read all possible answers before you select one. Even if you’re sure that option B is the correct answer, verify that A, C and D are incorrect. Don’t get burned by an all of the above option.
  • Narrow it down. Eliminate answers that you know are incorrect. Cross them out on the test sheet. If there’s an all of the above option, cross that out, too. For questions with number answers, you can usually eliminate the highest and lowest numbers and only consider the middle range. If two of the options are the opposite of each other, one of them is probably correct.
  • Don’t second-guess yourself. In most cases, you should stick with your first choice. However, don’t be afraid to change your answer if you discover that you read the question wrong or if you remember something that proves your initial response was incorrect.
  • Take a wild stab. Unless there’s a penalty for incorrect answers, always make a guess (even if you have no idea at all what the answer is).
  • Go with your gut. If you absolutely can’t decide between two options, try to “feel” which one is right. Interestingly, scientific research suggests that our feelings are relatively reliable even when factual recall is poor.

Watch Out for Qualifiers

Always be on the lookout for key qualifying words like only, always, every and never. Watch out for wordings that might be intended to trick you. Eliminate double negatives if you can. Try to create a positive statement that means the same thing (for example, reword never not to always).

Skipping Questions

When writing your exam, place a star next to any questions you don’t know the answer to. Skip them and only go back when you’re done the questions you know. If you’ve studied well, you shouldn’t have to skip more than 10 percent of the questions. Before you go back to the ones you skipped, check if there’s information in any of the other questions that will help you figure them out. Make sure that you don’t forget to go back and do the questions you skipped!

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