Master Multiple Choice

The ABCs of making the best pick on multiple-choice tests

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

Basics Boot Camp

If it says use a #2 pencil, use a #2 pencil. In fact, bring two and make sure they're sharp and have erasers.

Read the directions. Wait, we're supposed to answer which one of these is not true instead of which one is true? Oh, well, that changes everything...

Get a good night's sleep! Fight the urge to cram in studying until the wee hours. In general, a sharp brain will pay off more than a few extra minutes of memorizing.

Make sure to eat breakfast and if you're allowed, bring a snack.

First, let's start with a little pop quiz:

Which of the following is true about multiple-choice tests:
a. Everybody takes them
b. They're not always fun
c. You can improve your test-taking skills
d. All of the above

Pencils down!
The correct choice is answer d. While multiple-choice tests are among the most popular testing forms, they're also among the easiest at which to improve.

Whether you're working on Mrs. Sneadley's multiple-choice unit test on the Civil War, taking a standardized test to measure your progress in math, or dreaming of passing your driver's permit — it pays to polish your multiple-choice test-taking skills.

1. Manage your minutes.

Always have a sense of how many questions you have to tackle and how long you have to do it in. Take a quick flip through the pages of your exam and note how much time you have left (wearing a watch on test day is a good idea). One eye on the clock isn't meant to stress you out, it just ensures that you have enough time to get through everything.

2. Do several sweeps.

There are some tests (like those on a computer), where you can't pick and choose your answer order, but on a paper test it can work to your advantage to go through and quickly take care of all the answers you know. Then circle back for ones you're pretty sure of, leaving the head-scratchers for last.

3. Mind your bubble sheet.

While skipping around can make a multiple-choice test much more manageable, it can also get you into a whole heap of trouble if you're not careful to keep your answers lined up with your questions. More than one poor soul has realized at the last minute that an entire bubble sheet of answers was off by one space. Don't let this happen to you.

4. Understand what's being asked.


One of the biggest challenges with multiple choices is to not misinterpret what's being asked: some choices will be related to the subject but won't answer the question. For instance,

Why do some birds fly south for the winter?
1. Because they have feathers
2. Because they migrate to warmer climates
3. Because they eat birdseed
4. Because they fly in patterns

All of the choices are true about birds, but only one choice — answer b — answers the question asked.

5. Eliminate the obvious.

Are you allowed to write on the test booklet? If so, try crossing out answers you're sure are off base. That way you'll be able to focus in on real possibilities for the right answer without being distracted. Think about it like this: if you're having trouble picking out what's right, sometimes you can deduce what it is by eliminating the wrong answers.

6. Make an educated guess.

If you've gone through all the steps and you're still not sure, try to narrow it down to the two best options and then... make your best guess. A 50/50 chance of getting it right isn't bad and it usually makes sense to try to answer the question instead of leaving it blank. One exception is some standardized tests, but assume it's good to mark an answer and ask your teacher if you're not sure whether a maybe-right answer is better than no answer.

7. Go with your gut.

Once you've made your answer selection, it's usually best not to change it. Certainly there are exceptions to this, but in general don't second-guess your first impulse.

 

Amy KL Borrell has taken her fair share of multiple choice tests.

  • Subjects:
    Homework and Tests, Test Preparation
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