Multiple choice tests can be easy.
I know… I know… You might not agree. Can any test ever be easy?
Yes. When you know a few simple tricks for test-taking, any kind of test can be easy.
You’re going to know just how to make that happen by the end of this article.
Most of your struggles with tests in the past are caused by everyone around you encouraging you to use bad strategies. They make procrastination inevitable and ruin results.
Once you get only a few points, you’ll see your grades start to skyrocket.
Most importantly, you’ll feel proud of your grades without all the stress.
The right strategy on a multiple choice test can improve your final grade without studying more.
Study skills and proper test prep can help. They’re just less important than in a typical test.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you might recognize a few of these strategies from the blog’s regular test taking strategies.
Use these strategies need to use during multiple choice exams for an extra boost to your grades.
You need to know this:
1. Go Staggeringly Fast!
At the start of any set of multiple choice questions is the prime time to push yourself to move fast.
Often you’ll be able to answer a multiple choice question in an instant.
When you can answer the question instantly, you shouldn’t waste any extra time lingering on the question. Answer it and move on.
If you get too invested trying to dig into your brain to verify your answers then you may be asking for trouble. The psychology of the whole situation changes.
When you’re moving quickly you’re creating confidence in your answers. You’re also putting yourself in the best position to avoid “choking.” Choking will shut down your ability to think.
When you slow down to think about it, you’re encouraging doubt and second guessing.
Second guessing is okay but when you first pick up your test, it’s much better to just get your gut reactions on the page.
This is one awesome way to reduce your stress while taking a test.
2. Eliminate The Obvious
Multiple choice exams have more to do with eliminating the wrong answers than finding the right answers.
This may not instantly make sense but consider this:
There are 3 wrong answers and 1 right answer. It’s often easier to recognize 3 wrong answers than recognizing the single right answer.
There are unlimited ways an answer can be wrong. It’s easier to disprove an answer than it is to prove an answer.
That is a problem when you have to construct the answer. That is an advantage when you’re given a choice.
Disproving an answer is also a lot easier stress wise.
When you’re not confident that you know the correct answer to a question, it’s time to slow down.
You should try to rule out the answers that you know aren’t correct.
3. Skip The Tough Ones And Big Surprises
The first time you go through a test you shouldn’t be getting hung up on any questions.
If you think a question requires a little thinking (or you know you don’t know it) then skip it. Save it until you’ve completed all the easier questions on the test.
Difficult questions are a breeding ground for doubt.
It’s better to save that doubt until you’ve already dealt with the easy stuff.
More instructors than not place the hardest questions near the end of the test.
It’s still worth skipping early questions you’re struggling with.
The “hardest” questions often end up being the oddball questions.
They’re the kind of question your teacher mistakenly expects you to know.
The late test hard questions are questions that your studying should have focused on.
Some questions will end up being hard just because you had no logical reason to prepare for them. Generally, the “hard” questions are questions your professor actually prepared you for.
4. Certainty Marking
You should be marking all the questions that you know you answered right.
So, if you answered a question and were completely certain you got it then put a check next to the question number.
If you think you’re right then you might put a slash next to it. Mark educated guesses with another symbol.
Marking the questions helps you keep track of what needs to get answered.
There can be a whole lot of questions to have to answer and keeping track of them can help.
It also helps you assess your expected grade on the test (which I’ll describe later.)
5. The Surprising Way To Remember It
With multiple choice tests, you don’t need to remember the exact correct answer to get the question right.
If you’re struggling to remember something then don’t try to remember it. Instead, try to just remember related information.
Surprisingly, this is often enough to locate where you stored the required information. If you used a powerful memorization strategy then you’ll almost always be able to find it.
Have you ever struggled to remember the name of a song or something?
Then you remember the band name that played it and suddenly the song name just clicks.
Or maybe you start remembering the lyrics and the song name suddenly becomes obvious.
This has to do with chaining memories. You can learn how to use that for school in this series.
Memory works through the linking of information.
If you can find information that’s linked then you can remember the required information.
Even if you can’t quite find the required information, you’ll be in a much more prepared state to take a guess.
You’ll be running through related information and recognize potential answers.
6. How To Make Mind-blowingly Good Guesses
I’m going to be making a distinction between educated guesses and more wild guesses.
Prioritizing educated guesses is important. That’s why this distinction needs to be made.
In practice, the difference between educated guesses and wild guesses can become a bit hazy.
These criteria can help you make more educated guesses and less wild ones.
If you studied right then you should recognize categories of information in the question.
Multiple choice tests make this easy.
If something looks like it doesn’t belong in the question then you should assume you’re right.
(You won’t always be right but you’ll be right more often than not when you’re prepared for the test.)
The less prepared you are for the test, the less trust you should give to familiarity.
In fact, if you failed to prepare for a test at all (and it’s a complicated subject like anatomy) you may want to lean against familiar answers slightly.
(If you’re thinking a question seems stupidly easy, you may be missing something.)
Checking The Test
In my experience, about 5-10% of questions will give you a good clue of the answer somewhere else on the test.
If you don’t know the answer to a question then look for other related questions elsewhere on the test.
If you’re reading everything then you can often catch your teacher giving hints at the correct answer.
This is one of the most reliable sources you have for answering tough questions.
The teacher probably won’t lead you too far astray with the information given in other questions.
What Would It Mean?
If you’re really stuck between a few potential answers then try to use common sense to answer them.
Start asking yourself questions about the implications of selecting particular answers.
On a history test, it might ask, “What year was the United States founded?” One potential answer might be 1814. If yourself, “what would that mean?” you might be able to remember the War of 1812.
Even if you don’t know what happened in the war of 1812, if you know the United States fought in it then you can rule of 1814 as the founding of the United States.
That’s a particularly clear example. Some will just improve educated guesses but they can be well worth your time when you’re stuck.
7. How To Make Surprisingly Good Wild Guesses
The following strategies are for when you’re really not prepared for a question.
If you don’t have the means to make an educated guess to the answer of a question, these strategies can improve your odds of selecting the best wild guess.
Longer Answers Are Better
Correct answers tend to be longer answers because right answers often require qualifiers.
Teachers need to make correct answers unambiguously correct.
Wrong answers don’t need caveats.
Wrong is wrong.
That leads to right answers saying “usually” and other qualifying words.
That makes them longer on average than the wrong answers.
If you notice qualifiers then lean towards them.
Similar Answers Are Better
If you notice two or three of the options are related to each other (or exact opposites) then one of them is correct.
Teachers use similar answers to make test questions more difficult to answer.
That comes with the consequence of making guesses on those questions easier.
All Or None
All Of The Above is a good wild guess answer.
Statistically, you’ll end up better off guessing it.
(With four questions it’s typically about a 50:50 guess.)
None of the above is less good a wild guess but it’s better than an average guess.
Take note: if the teacher loads the test with All of the above or none of the above, you can expect the success rate of selecting it to go down.
Check whether the answer you’re selecting is grammatically correct with the question.
If the question ended with “an” and a blank then you should expect the answer to start with a vowel.
If the questions was looking for a plural, make sure your answer is plural.
Teachers often make little mistakes like that and give away the answer to anyone paying attention.
8. Save Time For When You Need It
Your primary goal is to complete everything you know fast.
You don’t want to waste any extra time on questions that don’t require that extra time.
The point of getting through the rest of the test quickly is to allow you plenty of time for answering hard questions.
Then having time for checking your work and estimating your own final grade.
Keep this in mind as you’re going through the test.
It is difficult to focus on a goal. If you’re not focused then you won’t have time to get it done.
1. Your first priority is finishing all the work that you instantly know.
That means, even if you run out of time, you’ve taken all of the easy points.
2. Your second priority is answering those tough questions and making big guesses.
This is where most of your test time should go.
3. You want to review all your work and make sure to keep track of all the points you scored.
Don’t be afraid to change an answer. Scientific studies have suggested that changing an answer isn’t bad. You might think you’ll ruin your gut instinct but, statistically, you’re better off.
9. Estimate Your Final Score
With all tests, you should be doing this but with multiple choice tests it’s particularly easy.
When you answer a test question, you probably notice your confidence level of what you write.
Sometimes you’ll answer a question and you will know you’re right.
Other times, you don’t know but think you’re right.
Some other times you’re just hoping to luck out.
You can use those gut feelings to estimate your final score on the test:
- Give yourself full credit for answers you’re confident about.
- You get half credit for answers you think you got right.
- And no credit for the rest of your answers.
Add those points up and compare them to the total points on the test.
That will give you a low ball estimate of your final score.
Having that low ball estimate of your score is massively convenient for a number of reasons.
1. One is that you instantly can decide whether you’re happy with your score or not.
That means you can choose whether or not to just hand in your test and relax.
(Holding onto a test longer can get you a few more points but sometimes it’s just not worth the stress.)
2. Another advantage is that you know whether your study strategy had worked.
You don’t need to wait for your teacher to verify it.
No more waiting for the teacher to hand the test back.
3. It also allows you to accept your grade immediately after taking the test.
As a stimulus-response animal this instant feedback can help you feel the reward or punishment of your grade right when your body can respond best to it.
Heck… it also feels good to hand in a test knowing you’re probably acing it.
Multiple choice tests require a certain amount of studying but never lose sight of how important the actual strategies you use to take the test are.
With the right strategies you can study less and get the equivalent grade of studying dramatically more.
(No, I’m not suggesting to skip studying completely. Many of the advantages of these strategies require a base knowledge of the subject. You’ve gotta’ read this.)
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