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Do Your Best on Multiple Choice Exams: Tips for Success

Multiple choice exams have become a favoured format for learning assessment in recent years. To help students succeed on tests in this format and obtain top grades, Al-Fanar Media has pulled together experts’ advice on the best ways to tackle multiple choice exams.

Questions on multiple choice exams give students a list of possible answers to choose from. An alternative test format, called the constructed response exam, requires students to construct their own answers to each question.

Before getting into specific advice about how to do your best on multiple choice exams, here’s a brief overview of the differences between multiple choice and constructed response exams, with summaries of the advantages and drawbacks of each.

Multiple Choice Exams, Advantages:

  1. Objective valuation: Answers are assessed automatically, reducing the potential for human bias in grading.
  2. Efficient marking: Exams can be swiftly marked using computers, saving time and effort.
  3. Comprehensive coverage: Questions can include a diverse array of topics, allowing a thorough assessment of the subject content.
  4. Simplified statistical analysis: The system facilitates data collection and analysis, identifying educational challenges and evaluating performance effectively.

Drawbacks:

  1. Guessing potential: Students may select the correct answer by chance, meaning there is no proof of deeper understanding of the subject.
  2. Limited assessment of critical and creative thinking: The system prioritises memory over critical and creative thinking.
  3. Restricted types of questions: Teachers will find it challenging to design questions that require in-depth analysis or interpretation.

Constructed Response Exams, Advantages:

  1. Evaluation of critical and analytical thinking: This system enables the assessment of students’ ability to analyse information and articulate ideas effectively.
  2. Flexibility in answers: Students can demonstrate their knowledge without being confined to pre-selected answers.
  3. Reduced guesswork: Constructed responses are more likely to reveal a genuine understanding of the subject, rather than just just memory or a lucky guess.

Drawbacks: 

  1. Evaluation complexity: Assessing constructed responses can take time, be labour intensive, and reveal examiners’ subjective biases.
  2. Marking variability: Marking may vary between different examiners, leading to potential inconsistencies in grading and results.
  3. Limited knowledge areas tested: The lengthier nature of constructed-response exams means a smaller number of questions can be asked and assessed, which can reduce these exams’ effectiveness as a test of comprehensive understanding of the subject(s).

Tips for Taking Multiple Choice Exams

Several education and exam-focused websites offer students valuable tips on how to prepare for and take multiple choice exams. Here are some ideas gleaned from two United States-based websites, Studyright and Educationcorner:

Plan your time wisely. Before diving into the questions, it is crucial to allot your time carefully. Determine how many minutes you have per question and do not rush or spend excessive time on any one section. This approach helps you avoid running out of time.

Take your time to read carefully. Read each question thoroughly and slowly. Rushing can lead to mistakes as you select answers based on partial understanding or mix up information. It is crucial to understand the question fully before looking at the answer choices to ensure you understand what the examiner is looking for.

Generate the answer yourself. Once you have carefully read the question but before glancing at the options, try to formulate the answer or a close approximation of it in your mind. This approach helps you eliminate options that are clearly incorrect and to select the right answer.

Consider each option carefully. While this suggestion may seem obvious, it is easy to overlook this step when feeling rushed. Ask yourself if each option is suitable as the correct answer. This approach helps ensure that you thoroughly assess all options before making your selection.

Eliminate wrong answers. Narrow down the choices by eliminating ones that you are certain are incorrect, even if you are unsure of the correct answer. This method increases your confidence in your selection because you are focusing only on potentially correct options.

Select the most accurate answer. In situations where multiple answers seem plausible, prioritise selecting the most accurate choice. Ensure you follow the earlier steps, especially reading the question attentively and grasping its meaning, to help in making the most informed choice.

Tackle easy questions first. When faced with challenging, time consuming questions, answer the easier ones first. This strategy helps you manage the time available more intelligently, gives you confidence, and allows you to return to the more difficult questions with a clearer mind.

Use strategic, not random guessing. While the possibility of guessing correct answers is a downside of multiple choice exams for test evaluators, it can be a benefit for test takers, if used effectively. Guessing should not be random. It should be informed by information that guides you toward the correct choice.

Be cautious with certain words. Words like “never,” “always,” or “often” are tricky. When you encounter them in a question, exercise extra caution. Read the question many times and follow the previous steps before selecting an answer. Evaluate each choice individually to avoid falling into the trap set by these deceptive words.

Stick with your initial choice. When reviewing answers, it is common to doubt your selections. In such cases, it is generally advisable to stick with your initial choice unless you recall crucial information that prompts you to change your answer. Trusting your initial instinct is often best.

Consider “all of the above”. If you encounter two choices you believe are correct and are unsure which is more accurate, and if “all of the above” is an option, it is often the best choice unless you’re certain one of the options is incorrect. This strategy maximises your chances of selecting the correct answer when in doubt.

Use previous answers as a guide. When you are unsure about the correct choice for a question, consider using your answers to other questions as a guide. For instance, if the correct answers in the preceding and following questions are (A) and (C) respectively, you may want to exclude these options from the current question. It is probably unlikely that correct answers will be in the same order consecutively.

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