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A Closer Look at Multiple Choice Exams

Some students have real problems with taking multiple choice exams. Most often, a different style of study would help them to overcome these kinds of problems. The degree of difficulty with multiple choice exams usually has more to do with the structure of the exam than from the difficulty of the material. For some students, multiple choice exams mean easier exams and therefore they rationalize their way into relaxed study and review prior to the exam. It is important to know how to prepare for multiple choice exams and also how to approach and understand the structure of the questions.

Multiple choice exams can present some tricky hurdles just because of the way they are structured. In most cases these tests will consist of more questions than an essay or short answer essay exam. The questions on this type of exam are typically not grouped by like subject matter. They are mixed up and jumbled by topic all the way through. The wording of the questions may be different than how you read the information in the text. Also, the questions may not be asking you to be able to recognize basic terms and ideas, but may be offering answers to questions which have to be reasoned out and thought through. Students often make the mistake of studying definitions of terms for multiple choice tests and do not strive for deeper understanding of the material. Remember the admonition earlier? Get understanding.

Some strategies to consider when taking multiple choice tests could include the following:

  1. Scan through the exam. Make a mental note of how your time should be allotted.
  2. Start with questions you know the answer to and get them answered so you get that credit.
  3. After completing one pass through the test and answering the questions you know, take another pass through and see if some of the answers you couldn't come up with the first time through, now seem obvious to you. This is a normal occurrence.
  4. Keep an eye on the time and try to finish with a few minutes left to go back over your test. You should change your answers only when you have a good reason to do so based on your recall of the material.
  5. Read each question completely. You will lose points if you read a question rapidly and assume half-way through it that you know what it is asking.
  6. Note key words in questions.
  7. Read the question and try to answer it from recall before looking at the possible answers. See if you can label the answers true or false to help eliminate choices.
  8. Note very similar answer pairings. If there are two answers that are very similar, the correct answer is often one of the two and will usually be the one that correctly quotes terminology used in the course or text. If the two answers are opposites then one of them is incorrect and an "all of the above" or "none of the above" answer is also incorrect.
  9. Be cautious in choosing answers with words that are highly exclusive or inclusive. Words that are absolutes like "always" and "never" tend to paint things as black or white, which is often not accurate. Relative words like "usually" and "may" are more often contained in correct answers.
  10. Remember that you are attempting to select the best answer. You may be choosing between two possible answers which both contain accurate material.


Last Updated: 08/20/2013

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