Multiple Choice Questions Strategies

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This guide is written with the explicit aim to help my students to do their best on exams in my computer science classes. At the same time most of the ideas are generic enough and can be useful in a wider context. Booklet contains additional information about "grey areas" (using/abusing breaks, prevention of burnout and fatigue, etc.)

Dr. Nikolai Bezroukov

When students took SAT the first time they usually have a limited experience with multiple choice questions and anticipate that a multiple choice exam is a simple matter of recognizing true statements. This is wrong. Multiple choice questions require fine distinctions between correct and nearly-correct statements. Often these distinctions require only memory and recognition, but involve the analysis and guesswork. These higher-order processes can help even when at first glance the content of a question is unrecognizable.

Try to anticipate the correct response before you are distracted by seeing the options provided. Then, uncover the responses.

Three rounds answering strategy

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The CPA Exam Multiple Choice Test-Taking Strategies

Now for specific advice:

Remember, with a little practice and good test-taking strategy you can improve your score dramatically!

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CTE Teaching Tips How to Prepare for a Multiple Choice Exam

Studying for a multiple choice exam requires a special method of preparation distinctly different from an essay exam. Multiple choice exams ask a student to recognize a correct answer among a set of options that include 3 or 4 wrong answers (called distractors ), rather than asking the student to produce a correct answer entirely from his/her own mind.

For many reasons, students commonly consider multiple choice exams easier than essay exams. Perhaps the most obvious reasons are that:

Despite these factors, however, multiple choice exams can actually be very difficult. Consider that:

To prepare for a multiple choice exam, consider the following steps:

  1. Begin studying early.

    Multiple choice exams tend to focus on details, and you cannot retain many details effectively in short-term memory. If you learn a little bit each day and allow plenty of time for repeated reviews, you will build a much more reliable long-term memory.

  2. Make sure that you identify and understand thoroughly everything that your instructor emphasized in class.

    Pay particular attention to fundamental terms and concepts that describe important events or features, or that tie related ideas and observations together. These are the items that most commonly appear on multiple choice exams.

  3. As you study your class notes and your assigned readings, make lists and tables.

    Concentrate on understanding multi-step processes, and on ideas, events, or objects that form natural sequences or groupings. Look for similarities and differences that might be used to distinguish correct choices from distractors on an exam.

    If your textbook highlights new vocabulary or key definitions, be sure that you understand them. Sometimes new words and concepts are collected at the end of a chapter. Check to be sure that you have not left any out by mistake.

    Do not simply memorize the book's definitions. Most instructors will rephrase things in their own words as they write exam questions, so you must be sure that you really know what the definitions mean.

  4. Brainstorm possible questions with several other students who are also taking the course.
  5. Practice on sample questions, if you have access to a study guide or old exams.

    A study guide may emphasize different ideas or use a slightly different vocabulary than your instructor prefers.

Exam Preparation Preparing for Multiple Choice Exams

Multiple Choice or Multiple Guess!?

The strategies that we have covered thus far should be helpful in preparing you with the necessary knowledge needed to succeed with multiple choice exams. For students who lack essential learning skills or who fail to apply the kinds of active strategies we have been discussing, multiple choice exams are extremely difficult. Some students have even gone so far as to label themselves incapable of writing multiple choice exams effectively. Some have even taken the step of changing out of a major area of study to avoid having to take exams in this format. In probably the majority of cases, these extreme responses are unnecessary; these students would have done better to examine the way they were preparing and adjusted their style of learning and studying to equip themselves better for these often difficult exams. If you're having difficulty with multiple choice exams, you will probably want to do what you can to make your situation better.

The reasons why these tests are so difficult have to do more with the structure of the exams than the level of difficulty of the material. Many students make the assumption that multiple choice exams are simple and do not require a rigorous approach to study. If you can understand not only how to prepare, but how to approach and analyze the structure of multiple choice questions, you will have a much clearer sense of how to take the guess work out of multiple choice exams. In terms of their structure, multiple choice exams have a few unsavoury characteristics: first, these tests typically have many questions to answer and the topics you studied are typically scrambled and shuffled; second, the ideas you learned about in class or in the text may be reworded in different ways: colloquially, technically, by example, or by analogy; third, very often the multiple choice test is not simple recognition of basic ideas but recognition of the answer to a reasoned problem. Your reasoning must make use of the learning from the course and may go beyond the material covered in class or require you to apply knowledge from the course. You may have to go beyond straight memorization to make an analogy or to solve a novel problem. You cannot just be familiar with the material; you must be able to write it down, talk about it, and analyze it

In-test Strategies for Multiple Choice

With all these characteristics, it is no wonder that multiple choice tests are both under-estimated by some students and revered by others. We begin with a series of in-test strategies and then apply these to a few example questions, highlighting the structure and purpose of each question. When appropriate, we mention additional preparation strategies that could be used to prepare for the questions:


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Extreme Modifiers Often in False Statements

  • all
  • always
  • only
  • invariably

Modifiers Often Used in True Statements

  • usually
  • some
  • probably
  • might

Negative prefixes

Prefix Example

Un- Untruthful means not truthful.

Non- Nonalcoholic means not alcoholic.

In- Indirect means not direct.

Im- Imperfect means not perfect.

Il- Illegal means not legal.

Ir- Irresponsible means not responsible.

Dis- Disagreeable means not agreeable.

Double Negatives

Double negative Interpretation

Not untruthful truthful

Not nonalcoholic alcoholic

Not indirect direct

Not imperfect perfect

Not illegal legal

Not irresponsible responsible

Not disagreeable agreeable

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The Last but not Least Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand ~Archibald Putt. Ph.D

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Last modified: March 12, 2019