Taking Multiple Choice Exams!!
Studying for a multiple choice (MC) exams requires 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 distracters ), 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:
The correct answer is guaranteed to be among the possible responses. A student can
score points with a lucky guess.
Many multiple choice exams tend to emphasize basic definitions or simple comparisons,
rather than asking students to analyze new information or apply theories to new
Because multiple choice exams usually contain many more questions than essay exams,
each question has a lower point value and thus offers less risk.
Despite these factors, however, multiple choice exams can actually be very difficult and are
in this course. Consider that:
Because multiple choice exams contain many questions, they force students to be familiar
with a much broader range of material than essay exams do.
Multiple choice exams also usually expect students to have a greater familiarity with
details such as specific dates, names, or vocabulary than most essay exams do. Students
cannot easily "bluff" on a multiple choice exam.
Finally, because it is much more difficult for a teacher to write good multiple choice
questions than to design essay questions, students often face higher risks due to
unintended ambiguity. [This is NOT the case with Vogeler's tests!]
To prepare for a multiple choice exam, consider the following steps:
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.
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.
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 distracters 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
Brainstorm possible questions with several other students who are also taking the course.
Practice on sample questions, if you have access to a study guide or old exams.
Answering Multiple Choice Questions
There are many strategies for maximizing your success on multiple choice exams. The best way
to improve your chances, of course, is to study carefully before the exam. There is no good
substitute for knowing the right answer. Even a well-prepared student can make silly mistakes on
a multiple choice exam, however, or can fall prey to distracters that look very similar to the
Here are a few tips to help reduce these perils:
Before you begin taking the exam, enter all pieces of required information on your
If you are so eager to start that you forget to enter your name and ID number, your results may
never be scored. Remember: your instructor will not be able to identify you by handwriting or
similar text clues.
Always cover up the possible responses with a piece of paper or with your hand while
you read the stem, or body of the question.
Try to anticipate the correct response before you are distracted by seeing the options that your
instructor has provided. Then, uncover the responses.
If you see the response that you anticipated, circle it and then check to be sure that none
of the other responses is better.
If you do not see a response that you expected, then consider some of the following
strategies to eliminate responses that are probably wrong.
None of these strategies is infallible. A smart instructor will avoid writing questions for which
these strategies work, but you can always hope for a lapse of attenti