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How to ace multiple choice test questions

Updated on August 29, 2013

If you are a student, then no doubt you have written a multiple choice test at some point in your academic career. If you understand a few things about the nature of multiple choice tests, you can pick the best answers with more discernment, or at the very least make good educated guesses, and get the best grade you can. All too often, though, I see students sabotage themselves on these assessments because they lack some basic test taking skills.

Read your test carefully

1. Study the test instructions . Failure to read instructions and answer choices carefully is the single biggest reason that students loose marks on tests. Some students figure a multiple choice is easy, that the law of averages is on their side, and they fill in an answer quickly. This is a good way to sabotage yourself. Remember, we do want you to think on the test.

2. Realize that each question has only one correct answer and three or four incorrect answers. The incorrect answers are also known as distractors.

3. Look for the most ridiculous answer and eliminate it. I can tell you that multiple choice tests are easy to score for the teacher but hard to construct. Once the teacher has the question and the right answer, he/she will have to generate the distractors. The more choices on the test, the more difficult it is to write a distractor answer. Each one will be more ridiculous than the previous.

4. Understand that some answers are less correct than others. Try to find at least two obviously wrong answers that you can eliminate. If you know your work, this will be easier. Sometimes it's just a matter of common sense.

Slow and steady

5. Try to avoid the impulse to answer the question quickly. Your job is to pick the most correct answer and some answers are more correct than others. To do this, consider reading the question and all its possible answers from start to finish before selecting your answer.

6. You may find that several (or all) answers are correct, and that there is a choice "all of the above" . If you see a choice "all of the above", there's a good chance that is the answer. Similarly, you could see another choice which indicates that two are correct. (Either that or "just a & and C"). That could be correct too if there isn't the other choice of "all of the above"

7. The answer "none of the above" is usually wrong. It's a placeholder, conveniently giving one of the four or five choices in the question. Your instructor wants you to think of the right answer and that particular answer is a cop out choice.

8. Watch for pair answers that are opposites. One of the pair is the right answer. Also watch for a pair of answers that differ from each other by one word. Chances are, that one of those two is the right answer. Read both answers in the pair carefully!

More tips

9. If you are really going for broke and want to guess, pick C. Instructors generally like to sandwich the correct answer between two distractors

10. Prepare thoroughly. Ask the instructor for old tests or sample questions. Learn the structure of these questions. Some instructors will have old exams, or access to questions on a Test Bank that comes with a textbook.

Prepare, prepare

Ultimately, there is no substitute for actually learning the material. Go to class, read your text and notes, pay attention when the instructor says "now this is important", pace your memorization throughout the term and don't wait for the last minute. If you become a savvy multiple choice test taker and understand multiple choice test questions, then you can better anticipate what to expect on the test and ensure you get the best result you can.

Do you do well on multiple choice test questions?

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