Success Tips for Multiple-Choice Exams

By Dr Mike Atkinson

Award-winning psychology professor Dr. Mike Atkinson offers helpful hints for acing multiple-choice exams.

You have plenty of time.

Relax. Pace yourself. Multiple-choice exams are typically designed to give you about 1 minute per question. So usually, you’ll have lots of time. Figure out where you should be in 30 min (e.g., at question 25) and keep track of your pace. Be sure to allow time to read the instructions.

Read each question carefully.

Good multiple-choice items are not designed to trick you—they are designed to make you think. Several options may appear “true”, but your task is to choose the one that best answers the question or statement posed. You might try reading the question with the answers covered. Try to come up with the answer yourself before you look at the alternatives.

Check multiple-choice answers in reverse.

After you finish the exam, review your answers, but this time read your answer first and then read the question. If you read the question first, you may not notice an error because of your “mindset”—you’ll be led to the same answer you choose originally. But reading in reverse breaks the set and you are more likely to notice that you’ve missed something.

Should I change my answer?

After checking over your exam, if you think you might have made a mistake the first time, you should change your answer. Research indicates that students change from an incorrect choice to a correct one about 60% of the time. Only about 20% of the time do correct answers get changed to incorrect ones (the other 20% is changing from one incorrect answer to another incorrect answer).

Pay careful attention to items with multiple answers (e.g., ‘a and b’ or ‘all of the above’).

You need to consider if each of the indicated alternatives is actually true. If so, then the multiple answers option is the correct choice. Note: Typically when “all of the above” appears as a choice, it is the correct answer, BUT be careful to examine each of the alternatives and make sure that they are true.

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