Taking Multiple choice exams
Taking Multiple choice exams
Studying for a multiple choice exam requires a special method of preparation distinctly different from an essay exam. Multiple choice exams ask a student to recognize a correct answer among a set of options that include 3 or 4 wrong answers (called distractors ), rather than asking the student to produce a correct answer entirely from his/her own mind.
For many reasons, students commonly consider multiple choice exams easier than essay exams. Perhaps the most obvious reasons are that:
- The correct answer is there, somewhere. (lucky guesses are possible)
- Multiple choice exams tend to ask for simple information like single facts.
- The exams usually contain many more questions thus each is worth a small amount of the grade. You can miss a few and still do OK.
Despite these factors, however, multiple choice exams can actually be very difficult:
- Because there are many questions, students have to know more information.
- Multiple choice exams also usually expect students to have a greater familiarity with details such as specific facts. You can't shotgun like on essay exams.
(Shotgunning - spraying factoids randomly, hoping that enough irrelevant information will add up to a coherent answer.)
- Finally, because it is much more difficult for a teacher to write good multiple choice questions than to design essay questions, students often face higher risks due to unintended ambiguity. In other words, you get bad questions.
Students must prepare well for these types of exams. The information must be well understood and remembered. There is no room for ambiguity or having things mostly correct. If you are well prepared though, there are some strategies available that will help on exam day.
Rules when taking tests:
- Do the multiple choice items first if your exam has types of questions other than multiple choice.
Merely reading the questions and possible answers will stimulate your thinking. Sometimes the ideas in the questions will get you thinking about other parts of the exams. You may even find hints in one question that will help you answer other questions.
- READ the whole question AND answers carefully.
What are the directions for the question? Questions may direct you to "Choose the false statement." , "Choose the true statement." or "Choose the best answer". Some options may be "All of the above" or "None of the above". Make sure you know what the question wants you to do.
- Time is sometimes short during exams. Longer exams require some time management. Here are some tips:
Answer the questions you are confident about first. (READ carefully though) Mark the ones you have not answered; do them later.
Next, work on the questions that you can answer with a little thought. Save the really tough ones for later. Erase the mark when done.
Lastly work on the questions that are left. There should only be a few remaining. Work on them as you have time. Don't leave any blank.
- Some students do well by reading the question and then try to answer it without looking at the choices. Students who do well on essay exams can use this to advantage. One in three students can score better with this strategy alone.
- Read the question and scan the answers. Eliminate obviously wrong answers.
- Be careful of "all of the above" and "none of the above" questions. These are sometimes the correct choice but are also often used as a distractor to confuse students. Be sure the choices available pertain to the question. Sometimes correct statements are included that have nothing to do with the question you're working on.
- Beware of negatives. If a negative such as "none", "not", "never", or "neither" occurs in the question then you're looking for a "catch". Read these carefully and be positive you understand the question. There will be an answer that matches even if your thinking is backwards.
- Words such as "every", "all", "none", "always", and "only" are superlatives that indicate the correct answer must be an undisputed fact.
- "Usually", "often", "generally", "may", and "seldom" are qualifiers that could indicate a true statement.
- Answer the questions without assuming too much. Don't be led astray by overanalyzing. Read the question and assume all the information is there for a reason. Ask for clarification if needed.
- What about when it's down to two possible answers?
Ask how the two answers differ (just the answers, ignore the question), maybe jot down how the two answers differ. Then look at the question again and ask yourself "how is this difference important for this question?" If you really think there's absolutely no difference between the two answers (e.g. just two words that mean the same thing), then look again at the answers you've eliminated - maybe one of them is actually the correct one.
- Read the question over separately with each separate answer. Cover up all the other answers as you read the question over separately with each specific answer. This reduces the distracting effects of the wrong answers and can make it easier for you to see intuitively which answer makes better sense.
Other possible tricks:
(Caution: a clever instructor will use these generalizations to actually trick the students into thinking they are being clever, when they are actually falling into a trap)
- Responses that use absolute words, such as "always" or "never" are less likely to be correct than ones that use conditional words like "usually" or "probably."
- "Funny" responses are usually wrong.
- "All of the above" is often a correct response. If you can verify that more than one of the other responses is probably correct, then choose "all of the above."
- "None of the above" is usually an incorrect response, but this is less reliable than the "all of the above" rule. Be very careful not to be trapped by double negatives.
- Look for grammatical clues. If the stem ends with the indefinite article "an," for example, then the correct response probably begins with a vowel.
- The longest response is often the correct one, because the instructor tends to load it with qualifying adjectives or phrases.
- Look for verbal associations. A response that repeats key words that are in the stem is likely to be correct.
- Play the old Sesame Street game "Which of these things is not like the other?" Sometimes the distractors will be very similar to trick students into thinking the choice is between one or the other. The answer will be something unrelated.
Following-up after your exam has been returned
Meet with the professor to go over the exam. Look for patterns in your wrong answers.
- Did you miss the question because you were unprepared? Study more carefully.
- Did you misread the question? Take your time.
- Did you know the answer but panic? Be well prepared, it promotes confidence.
- Try to see what the instructor was looking for with each question: Recognition? Analysis? Synthesis based on understanding? Then adjust your studying.