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Essential Test-Taking Strategies for Multiple Choice Exams

Some students breathe a sigh of relief when they hear that a test will be multiple choice. However, multiple choice tests often prove to be some of the hardest ones to ace, especially as you move past the high school level into national and collegiate tests. Questions and answers may be worded with more subtlety, leading you to choose the wrong answer if you don’t take the time to read all the information carefully.

So, how do you score well on multiple choice tests? Throughout your career as a student, you’ve probably heard countless strategies thrown around by your peers. One of the most common among these is, “When in doubt, pick C.” But strategies like these are usually ineffective because truly randomized answer keys will not favor any particular answer choice.

In this article, we will offer up real, effective test-taking strategies for multiple choice tests that are sure to have you passing your tests with flying colors.

How to Prepare for a Multiple Choice Test

Preparing for a multiple choice test can be vastly different from preparing for an essay or writing-based test. Essay exams typically aim to test your overall understanding of a topic and your ability to recall relevant information to piece together into a relevant response. 

Multiple choice exams, on the other hand, test your knowledge by evaluating how well you can identify a correct answer among a set of options. You may need to pay greater attention to details when taking a multiple choice test, as the wording of the questions and answers is usually quite specific to indicate one correct choice.

Here are a few methods to help you prepare for an upcoming multiple choice test.

Take Practice Tests

If you have access to practice tests, take them. They can help you familiarize yourself with the way the questions and answers on the real test will be worded and practice reading both carefully. Try to use the strategies we will discuss in the next section while taking the practice tests so that they start to feel like second nature to you.

Time Yourself

Time is an important factor for multiple choice tests. You need to leave yourself enough time to at least make your best guess at every question on the exam. For longer exams, this may require you to limit your time spent on each question.

As you take your first few practice tests, keep track of how long the overall test takes you. Eventually, you may want to pay attention to how long you spend on an average question. This may help you determine a baseline time limit for each question. Remember that some questions may require more time than others, so allow yourself some breathing room within your question time limit.

Strategies to Use During the Test

Even if you study hard or know the material well, you can still trip up on multiple choice tests if you don’t pay close attention to the questions and answers. These strategies will help you think critically to understand what the questions are really asking and identify the best option among the answers.

Give Yourself a Time Limit

As we mentioned in the previous section, budgeting your time is important on multiple choice tests. If you spend too long agonizing over one question, you won’t have enough time to answer the questions you know.

Use your practice assessments to determine a time limit for each question. You don’t have to spend the entire time limit on every question, especially if you’re confident in the answer. However, you should avoid going over the limit on questions you don’t know. When the time limit expires, either make your best guess or mark the question and come back to it later if you have extra time.

Think of an Answer Before Reading the Options

Sometimes the answers on a multiple choice test can misguide you. Try covering the answers with your hand when you read the question. Then, spend a moment thinking of the correct answer before moving your hand to read the options. This way, you won’t be misled by answers that may be similar to the right answer, but not exactly correct.

After reading the options, select the one that is the closest to the correct answer you came up on your own.

Read Carefully

A few key words may drastically change the correct answer to a question. Your first instinct might be to rush through the test as quickly as possible for fear of not finishing in time. But as long as you budget your time the way we discussed, you should have plenty of time to complete the test. 

Therefore, you should avoid skimming the questions and answers. Slow down and read carefully to make sure you understand what the question is asking and the subtle differences between answer choices.

Similarly, just because the first answer seems right, you shouldn’t skip over the rest of the choices. Read and assess each one to make sure there isn’t another option that may be more correct than your initial choice.

Pay close attention to questions and answers that contain the following words or phrases:

  • All of the above or none of the above.
  • Sometimes, always, never.
  • Not, but, although, nevertheless.
  • Generally, seldom, tend to, probably.

Use the Process of Elimination

Let’s say you arrive at a question and one of the following scenarios occurs:

  • You can’t recall the answer.
  • Multiple answers seem correct.
  • None of the answers seem correct.

In this case, you’re most likely going to have to guess. You should always guess on a multiple choice test as long as you don’t receive a penalty for wrong answers. On previous versions of the SAT, for example, there used to be a “guessing penalty” that deducted points for incorrect answers. That element has been eliminated from the current version of the SAT, and you are now encouraged to guess even if you are unsure of the answer.

A great guessing method is the process of elimination. Read the answers carefully and cross off any that you can confidently say are incorrect. Even if you eliminate only one or two options, you can still increase your probability of guessing correctly by narrowing your number of choices. On a test with 4 answer options, eliminating 1 raises your chance from 25% to 33% while eliminating 2 raises it to 50%. Quite a significant increase!

Make Your Best Guess

Use all the information at your disposal when making a guess. For some questions, you might think you have no idea of the correct answer, but if you pay close attention to the wording of the choices, you might find some clues. For example, two answers might seem like direct opposites of each other. In that case, one of those two answers could be the correct one, allowing you to eliminate the other options.

You might also find that other questions on the test help you narrow down your answers. Pay attention to information provided in the questions that you may not have been able to recall on your own and use it to make an educated guess for questions you don’t know.

If you’re gearing up to take a national multiple choice test like the ACT or SAT, consider looking for help from test-taking experts. At PrepExpert, our experienced tutors will provide even more test-taking strategies to help you fully prepare for your upcoming exams and achieve your target score.

Check out the full range of courses and sign up today to start improving your scores!

Prep Expert

Written by Prep Expert

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