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Passing a Multiple Choice Math Test

Updated on May 30, 2012

Wether the test is a final exam in your Algebra class or a standarized test, such at the ACT, that effects your college choice, multiple choice Math tests can be intimidating and cause anxiety. Below are tips for use on the test day to help improve your performance on multiple choice math tests.

Pace Yourself

It is best to know how long each question should take so you know you will not run out of time. For example, if you know you there are 60 questions in 60 minutes, then you should spent at most one minute per question. Now, don't keep checking the clock or your watch, that is a time waster, just glance at the clock once in a while to make sure you are on the correct pace. If you are halfway through the test, for example, you should have have the test done.

Leave the Tough Questions for the End.

If you are finding a question tough and you are spending excessive time on that question, skip it! Take an educated guess. Mark down that guess and put a small mark next to the problem number on the scan-tron so you can remember to go back to it. Never leave an answer spot blank. This can cause errors. Scan-tron answers can become offset. You may notice in the future that you are answering question 35, for example, on scan tron number 33. Then you need to start from problem 1 to see where you made the mistake and lose vital time.

Don't Show Your Work

It has been drillled into students' heads to show all their work on a math test. Which is why many students may run out of time on multiple choice math tests. On these tests only the answer matters. Therefore if you can do steps in your head, you save time. For example, suppose you are working on a Algebra 2 problem involving systems of equations and you get to a point where you find out 2x - 5 = 7. This is a simple problem from Algebra 1 that you should have already mastered. Finding the value of x in your head is faster than solving on paper.

Be Extra Careful If Skipping Around

A recommendation is to try to do the easiest problems first. However you have to be extra careful if skipping around to avoid offset answers on your scan-tron.

Do Not Over Rely On Your Calculator

If you can, do all simple arithmetic in your head. It is much faster to figure out 7 + 8 = 15, for example, in your head than on a calculator. If you have strong or at least average computational skills, then you will have figured it out before you are done pressing the four buttons on the calculator.

A Word of Caution on Calculator Use

Because calculators follow Order of Operations, mistakes can be made due to incorrectly inputting your expression. For example -2^2 is not the same as (-2)^2. If you leave out the parenthesis, you will get an incorrect answer. If needed, use more parenthesis than necessary.

Take Educated Guesses

If unsure about an answer choice, take an educated guess. Rule out any options you know cannot be the answer and make a guess on the choices left. This increases your chances that you will get the question correct.

Work Backwords

If unsure of how to approach a problem, work backwards. Some examples of working backwards on math problems can be found here

Plug and Chug

The last method is what my classmates referred as Plug and Chug. Basically, plug in the answers to the problem until you get one that works. To efficiently use plug and chug, always start with the middle answer. That way you may be rule out half the answer choices if that is not the correct answer. Plug in chug may be more time saving than actually doing the problem. Here is an example

Solve for x: 3(2x - 1) + 4 =  13
a) x = -1
b) x = 1
c) x = 2
d) x = 4

Because there is no exact middle choice, pick a choice close to the middle, for example choice B. If you plug in 1 for x, you find 3(2x - 1) + 4 equals 7, not 13. Because 7 is less than 13 and the coefficient of x, once the 3 is distributed, is positive, you know x must be a larger number. And so, besides ruling b out as a solution, you have also ruled out choice a.

Here is an example from geometry

Two sides of a triangle have length 5ft and 9ft.  What is a possible length for the third side
a) 4 ft
b) 10 ft
c) 14 ft
d) 20 ft

Remember that the lengths of the two smallest sides of a triangle must add up to a number that is greater than the length of third side.

Let's say you chose choice C, 14 ft. Because the smaller sides add up to 14, 14ft is too large for the length of the third side. Therefor not only has choice C been ruled out but also choice D.

If you are uncomfortable ruling out answer choices just plug in all possible answers until one works.

There are some instances where you cannot determine if the value you chose is too large or small. An example problem would be

Solve for x: -2x + 7 = 3x + 6


If you notice test anxiety is getting to you, put your pencil down, sit back, close your eyes, focus on your breath, and count you exhales up 5. You do not want to spend too much time meditating but you also do not want test anxiety causing mistakes.

What To Do If Your Answer is Not a Choice

If your answer is not a possible choice, then if you feel you have time, look over your work for any mistakes. Otherwise, take an educated guess and mark the problem to come back to later.


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