The decisive moment: Essential tips for taking multiple-choice exams
When you get your exams back, do you hear yourself say, “Why did I mark that answer?” You might want to rethink how you take multiple-choice exams. Aside from studying to master the content being tested, here’s a step-by-step process to ensure that your test-taking skills are at their best when multiple choice gets tricky.
Step 1: Take a blank 3×5-inch index card to the exam to cover answers as you go through the test. Show it to the professor before the test, and get permission to use it. If the professor tells you not to use the card, use your hand — but make absolutely certain you have nothing written on your hand! Also ask your professor if you may mark on the exam or if you may use scratch paper (see Step 4).
Step 2: Scan the exam to see how many questions there are.
Step 3: Before you read the first question, cover up the answers with the index card or your hand; then carefully read the question.
Step 4: Re-read the first question and underline all key words and phrases if your professor agreed that this was okay in Step 1. Do this to make sure you know what the question is asking and to narrow down possible answers. Key words can range from “not,” “never,” “always,” and “rarely,” to phrases like “the primary purpose,” “one recommended technique,” or “the researchers’ conclusion.”
Step 5: Before you look at the answer options, quickly jot down any possible answers that come to mind in the margin of the test or on a piece of blank scratch paper — again, if the professor allows you to mark on the test or to use scratch paper.
Step 6: Now uncover the first option, read it carefully, and underline key words (if allowed). If it looks like a good answer, put a • to the left of the option. If you aren’t sure, put a ? mark, and if you know it’s wrong, put an X.
Step 7: Repeat this step for each of the remaining options.
Step 8: Finally, look to see how many •s, ?s, and Xs you have and whether the answers are obvious or whether you need to choose between two or more options.
While this process doesn’t guarantee that you’ll always identify the correct answer, it does prevent you from misreading questions and choosing incorrect answers on impulse just because they jump out at you at first glance.
For more study tips and coaching on test-taking strategies, visit SLAC on the fourth floor of Alkek Library. Good luck on all your exams this semester!