Tips for Passing Multiple Choice Exams

Source: Center for Teaching Excellence

Studying for multiple choice questions in an exam requires a special method of preparation. Some students feel that multiple choice questions are easier because the correct answer is guaranteed to be listed so one might score points with a lucky guess. However, multiple choice questions can often be confusing if you aren’t prepared.

To prepare for a multiple choice questions in an exam, consider the following steps:

  • Begin studying early
    Multiple choice questions tend to focus on details, and you cannot retain many in short-term memory. If you learn a little bit each day and allow plenty of time for repeated reviews, you will build a much more reliable long-term memory.
  • Make sure that you identify and understand everything 
    Pay attention to basic terms and concepts that describe important events or features, or that tie related ideas and observations together. These items appear often in multiple choice questions
  • As you study, make lists and tables
    Concentrate on understanding multi-step processes and look for similarities and differences that might be used to distinguish correct choices from distracters in a question.

If your textbook highlights new vocabulary or key definitions, be sure that you understand them. Sometimes new words and concepts are collected at the end of a chapter. Check to be sure that you have not left any out by mistake.

Do not simply memorise the book’s definitions. Most examiners will rephrase things in their own words as they write exam questions, so you must be sure that you really know what the definitions mean.

  • Brainstorm possible questions with several other students who are also taking the course.
  • Practice on sample questions, or make up your own multiple choice questions

Answering Multiple Choice Questions

There are many strategies for maximising your success in multiple-choice questions. The best way to improve your chances, of course, is to study carefully before the exam. There is no good substitute for knowing the right answer. Even a well-prepared student can fall prey to distracters that look very similar to the correct answer.

Here are a few tips to help reduce these mistakes:

  • Cover up the possible answers with a piece of paper or with your hand while you read the stem, or body of the question.

Try to anticipate the correct response before you are distracted by seeing the options that the examiner has provided. Then, uncover the responses.

If you see the response that you anticipated, circle it and then check to be sure that none of the other responses is better.

  • If you do not see a response that you expected, then consider some of the following strategies to eliminate responses that are probably wrong.

None of these strategies is infallibleYour best strategy is to learn.

  1. 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.”
  2. “Funny” responses are usually wrong.
  3. “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.”
  4. “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.
  5. Look for grammatical clues. If the stem ends with the indefinite article “an,” for example, then the correct response probably begins with a vowel.
  6. The longest response is often the correct one, because the instructor tends to load it with qualifying adjectives or phrases.
  7. Look for verbal associations. A response that repeats key words that are in the stem is likely to be correct.
  8. If all else fails, choose response (b) or (c). Many instructors subconsciously feel that the correct answer is “hidden” better if it is surrounded by distracters. Response (a) is usually least likely to be the correct one.

If you cannot answer a question within a minute or less, skip it and plan to come back later. Transfer all responses to the answer sheet at the same time, once you have marked all questions on your exam.

  • Take the time to check your work before you hand in the answer sheet.

Hopefully, these tips will help you to get the most marks possible out of your next multiple choice exam!