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How to Prepare for Multiple Choice Exams

Updated: May 5, 2022

As a student, you will likely encounter a variety of test formats. One of the most challenging

(and dreaded!) is the multiple choice exam. Here are some useful tips to make the exam-taking process a little easier.

Before you start the test:

  • Read the test instructions carefully.

  • Identify how long you will have to complete the test. Some instructors will also give you this information beforehand. Don't be afraid to ask. It is always helpful to know what to expect.

  • Estimate how much time you will have to complete each question. Remember that you will need to leave extra time at the end to double-check your answers.

Before you answer a question:

  • Read the question carefully and underline key words.

  • Try to rephrase the question to make sure you understand what it is asking.

  • Answer the question in your head, to the best of your ability, without looking at the possible answers. You may find it helpful to write down your answer next to question for reference.

  • Read each option carefully and highlight key words.

  • Eliminate wrong answers first.

  • Re-read the question and review the potential answers once more.

  • Use your judgement to choose the best answer.

Language matters! Always read carefully:

  • Be aware of absolute words. These are words like: always, never, all, none, etc. If one of these words is included in the question, it means there are no exceptions. If you can find an exception, the option with the absolute word is incorrect.

  • Be aware of contrasting words. These are words like: but, however, though, unlike, etc. These words change the direction of the question/statement. Make sure you understand the question before attempting to answer.

  • If two options contradict each other, one of them may be correct (although this is not always the case). Always follow the elimination rules described above.

  • If two options are very similar, one of them may be correct (although this is not always the case). Sometimes two options may be almost identical, but one may provide more information or have a substituted word (e.g. "and" instead of "but"). If you are stuck between the two, underline the distinguishing point and try to relate it back to the question.

  • If "all of the above" is an option, go over each possible answer and try to determine if they are correct or incorrect. If you are confident that at least one option is incorrect, "all of the above" is likely incorrect. If you are confident that at least two options are correct, "all of the above" is likely correct.

What do I do if I'm still unsure?

If you have followed the steps above but simply do not recall the material, skip the question for now. Remember that your time is limited. Take note of the question number or identify it by drawing a big star or question mark next to it.

Do not waste time on one question and risk leaving several questions unanswered. It is best to move on to the next question and come back to unanswered questions at the end. In some cases, reading another question/answers can actually trigger your memory!

When is it okay to guess?

You have tried your best to answer a question but are still confused between a few options; in this case, is it okay to guess? The answer is: it depends.

If incorrect answers are penalized, it is generally not worth it. In some cases, unanswered questions are also penalized but to a lesser degree than incorrect answers. In this case, it is really up to you to assess whether it is worth the risk. It comes down to how confident you are with your choice.

If there is no penalty for incorrect answers, make an educated guess! You have nothing to lose. Keep track of how many questions you had to guess on though. Did you struggle with one particular topic? Were you unprepared for the overall test? This will help you study more effectively for future exams.

Final tips:

  • Stick with your first answer, unless you realized you made a mistake or misread the question. Avoid changing answers multiple times.

  • Do not worry about patterns. You may have too many 'B' answers in a row, for example, but that does not mean you are wrong. Focus on choosing the best answer regardless of the letter associated with it.

  • If you have been provided with a scantron, it may be easier to fill it out as you go. You are more likely to make a mistake transferring your answers if you leave it until the end.

  • Leave time at the end of the test to go over your answers and make sure you have filled out the scan correctly.

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