Four Key Test-Taking Tips for Multiple Choice Questions & Exams

Four Key Test-Taking Tips for Multiple Choice Questions & Exams
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1. Actively Study Your Material

Many students make the mistake of assuming that just because they are answering questions where a possible answer is given, that they don’t have to study as hard, or as much.

Why not boost your test-taking confidence and be pro-active in your approach to studying? Study as if you were being asked essay questions on your topics and did not have any possibilities to choose from. If you can recall information from your study materials and write it out yourself, you certainly won’t have trouble recognizing it when you see it on the page.

Often, teachers will provide an outline of topics to study, or even sample questions to work with. If you are given sample questions, look carefully at how the questions are being asked, and what key words stand out for you. If you have trouble answering any, look through your material for the subject of the question and make a set of study notes or notes on a cue card.

If you are given a topic outline, try studying with a friend and make up multiple choice questions for each other.

2. Look For Clues & Read Questions Carefully

Before you even begin to answer any multiple choice questions during an exam, flip through your test and read each question you are given.

  • Are questions organized in a certain way?
  • Does it look like some questions might help you answer others?

Looking at your test as a whole can provide hints on how to answer each question individually. This will also allow you to note how many questions there are and approximate how much time you have for each.

Next, when you are ready to begin answering your questions, read through the question again, this time more slowly and carefully. Search for key words or phrases that may affect the answer: always, never, rarely, likely, all of, none of, most, least.

Remember that most multiple choice questions are asking for not just a correct answer, but the best possible answer.

Those key phrases are clues that will help you determine exactly what the question is asking and what options for that best possible answer might be. Your teachers aren’t out to trick you or catch you off-guard, but they do want to make sure that you are reading critically and actively responding to the words on the page.

3. Answer the Question Before Looking at the Possible Answers


After you have read the question carefully, cover up the possible answers so that you cannot read them, and try to answer the question without seeing the options you have to choose from. If you can formulate at least a bit of an answer to the question being asked, you have a better chance of finding that answer in the list of possibilities.

Many students get thrown off when they read very similar possibilities for a), b), c) and d) and lose sight of the facts they had studied in the first place. If you consciously make an effort at answering the question before you see these options, you may find that only one possibility stands out for you, and easily realize that others couldn’t possibly be correct.

This is also a great way to trust your gut instinct. If you find yourself throughout the exam changing your answers to another possibility and finally just feeling lost and insecure about your answer, search back to what your gut originally told you was right. If you studied the material for the test and gave an attempt at answering the questions before seeing the options, it’s more likely that your instinct was right the first time. Don’t second-guess yourself.

4. Use the Process of Elimination

If you’ve read a question carefully, put in your best effort, but still can’t answer it without looking at the options, all is not lost.

Many multiple choice tests have four or five possibilities to choose from, but wouldn’t it be easier to work with only two or three?

Look back at the clues, the key words and phrases in your question, and then read each possibility. Pay special attention here to options that say “All of the above” or “None of the above”. Are there any options that absolutely cannot be true? Chances are that there will be at least one.

Use a pencil or pen to actually cross out these answers and then look at the ones you have left. It will be much easier to choose between two. If both seem like they could be right, choose the one that looks most correct.

If you practice using all of these tips during your multiple choice questions, you will find yourself feeling a lot more comfortable and a lot less anxious when your teacher announces that a multiple choice test is coming up. Good luck!

Pencil Image Credit:

Student with Pencil photo: by Kakisky