Tips for Taking Multiple-Choice Exams: Exam Day

When the day of a multiple-choice exam arrives, there are some very helpful test-taking strategies you should keep in mind:

1) When you first receive the exam, give it a quick look over and make sure to read the instructions. As I said in my last post, you will hopefully already know how many questions will be on the exam so you won’t have to take any time figuring out how much time you should spend on each question.

2) Answer all the easier questions first. This lets you spend more time on the harder questions. If a question is hard, skip it for now, and make a mark on your exam to remind you that you need to come back to the question after you finish all the easy questions. If you do this and are using a Scantron or other kind of bubble sheet, make sure not to mark in any of the bubbles for skipped questions.

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

3) If you can, try to think of the answer to a question immediately after reading it, before reading any of the possible answers. Then, look at the answers and see which one matches. This makes alternatives like “all of the above”, “a and b” or “none of the above” easier to answer. For example, if none of the answers you generated match the choices given, except for “none of the above,” then you know which one to pick.

4) You can make educated guesses based on the following: (a) answers with absolute words (e.g., “all”, “never”) are usually incorrect; (b) answers with qualifiers (e.g., “some”, “generally”) are usually correct; (c) correct answers sometimes repeat some of the terms in the question; (d) partly true and partly false answers are incorrect; (e) if two answers are opposites, only one is likely correct; (f) answers with unfamiliar terms tend to be incorrect; (g) if two answers mean about the same thing and there is only one choice, both are probably incorrect; and (h) just because an answer sounds correct, it doesn’t mean it is correct (e.g., “operatic” is not the same as “operational”).

5) Review the exam. Research pretty conclusively shows that changing answers leads to correct responses. So don’t immediately rush out once you complete the exam. You have time left, so use it to check your answers.

6) Don’t try to guess what the instructor had in mind when he or she made up the exam. Just because an “a” answer hasn’t appeared for a while, this doesn’t mean that one is about to appear. Overthinking in this way leads to errors. Your time is better spent just answering the questions.

Good luck on those multiple-choice exams!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Image credit by Alberto G. on Flicker.  CC by 2.0.

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