Multiple choice questions are a staple of education. They may be less ubiquitous (<–SAT vocab word) than they once were. Still, we all have to take multiple choice tests.
Students, it’s vital that you have a good strategy for answering multiple choice questions. Use this 4 step process to answer any multiple choice question like you’re getting paid to do it.
1. Know what each multiple choice question is asking
This is an easy and understandable first step, but it’s one many students miss. It’s probably the biggest struggle students have with multiple choice questions.
There are two ways to bomb a test. First, you can fail to prepare. As the old saying goes, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” If you need to study. And we don’t just mean spending time. Preparation means spending enough time studying and it means studying the right way in that time. Make sure your study sessions are effective.
The second way to bomb a test is carelessness. This may be a reason for more missed multiple choice questions than even unpreparedness.
You have to know what you’re being asked before you can give the right answer. Don’t get fooled into thinking you’re asked something you aren’t. If you give the right answer to the wrong question, it’s still wrong.
Here are some important things to look for to make sure you’re answering the right multiple choice question:
- “Which is NOT…”
- Questions with more than one possible answer
- “All of the above” as an answer
- “None of the above” as an answer
- “All of the following EXCEPT…”
Make sure you pay attention to these common tricky multiple choice questions.
2. Evaluate each answer to the multiple choice question
After you’ve correctly identified the right type of question, you always want to do a quick evaluation of the answers. Often the types of answers given will suggest which is right. If you are surprised by the answers given, you want to double check that you read the question correctly.
If you’ve been studying effectively throughout the class, most multiple choice answers should be familiar. It’s a rare question that will have answers you’ve never seen in the class.
And keep this in mind: in this stage of the game, your goal is simple. Make sure that the answers you’re given match the question you think you’ve been asked.
3. Eliminate each clearly wrong answer
This phase more or less blends with the previous step. As you go, some answers will be so wrong that it’s not even funny.
If you’re asked which president chopped down a cherry tree and “Snoopy the dog” is an answer… well, hopefully you see what’s wrong with that answer. If not, I’ve got nothing for you.
Often this phase of the process will eliminate all but one answer. At that point, by simple process of elimination, you’ve answered the multiple choice question.
4. If all else fails, guess like a street magician
But sometimes you’ll still have two answers left. Or maybe three. Or maybe four.
I once took a high-stakes final. It shouldn’t have been high stakes. It was in “Theater Appreciation.” That’s supposed to be one of the easiest “A’s” you’ll ever get.
But some how I’d turned it into a real challenge. My final exam determined whether or not I would get an “A” or a “B” in the class. If I got 100% on the final, I’d get an “A.” If I missed just one question, I’d drop an entire letter grade.
And I didn’t know any of the final three multiple choice questions. I couldn’t even narrow it down. I had all 4 possible answers still alive for each of the last 3 questions.
What do you straight-up don’t have a clue?
You guess. That’s what I did. Apparently I guessed well, because I got an A. Or maybe the professor felt bad about giving a B, so he just gave me the A. I don’t honestly know.
Our guesses, however, are a special kind of guess. We don’t just blindly pick “C” because it’s the most common response (which I don’t think it is, by the way).
Let’s call it “guessing like a street magician.” These are the guys who seem to know your whole family history based just on the fact that you’re wearing a watch on your left hand and your shirt is the color red. They don’t really know who you are. They just make some educated guesses based on connections.
That’s the key – guess based on connections.
Even with excellent study skills, I almost always run into questions to which I don’t know the answer. Sometimes it’s worse that that. Sometimes I don’t even know where to start. It’s a complete and total guess. You might say, sometimes “I haven’t the foggiest” (to borrow an expression I’ve never once used).
But almost every time I know a connection to something in the question. Find those connections, use them, and guess based on them.
No connections? I’d go with your gut. But let’s look for the connections first. They’re less influenced by school cafeteria food.
If you use these 4 steps, we’re confident that you’ll have a good strategy on your next test.