Education

How to do well in multiple choice tests (probably)

Exam time is fast approaching and a ridiculous proportion of pupils’ lives will be directed by an apparently random process of multiple choice questions. Of course, the easiest way to ace any test, multiple choice or not, is to do the revision, but even the best-prepared can come unstuck on occasion, so here’s some tips for those moments when you’re just not sure…
And keep in mind that these are far from foolproof…
 
If it’s a true/false question, favour ‘true’
You’d think that a true/false question would be 50-50, but at least one sampling test has shown that ‘true’ was the answer 56% of the time. A fact is easier to remember than an invented lie so those who devise tests are looking what you know, rather than your knowledge of what is unlikely. They will veer, perhaps unconsciously, to the ‘easier’ way of asking you to confirm something.
 
Answers will skip a pattern
Whether it is true/false or A/B/C/D multiple choice, the answers will alternate more than would be the case in a genuinely random pattern. So a ‘false’ answer is disproportionately more likely to be followed by ‘true’, or a multiple choice letter (D, perhaps) is unlikely to be the answer twice in a row. So, if you’re pretty certain on one answer but guessing the next, you’ll be better off choosing a different answer than the previous known response.
 
See also: Why parents and teachers should let students fail
 
Choose the longest answer
The longest answer on multiple-choice tests can often be the one. The right answer has to be indisputably correct so sometimes that means some qualifying language, not required by the wrong answer.  If one choice is noticeably longer than its counterparts, it’s likely to be the one you need.
 
Avoid the outliers
The examiner’s goal is to hide the right answer by offering up credible alternatives. If the choices are (A) Red roses; (B) stick insects; (C) runner beans; (D) basil. So, ask which doesn’t belong  – stick insects, obviously, as the only non-plant. Three distractions of the same type is unlikely. Of the two remaining answers, two are edible, one isn’t. So roses can be eliminated as an outlier. Of the two left, it’s noticeable that all the answers are two words, apart from basil. So, in that way, basil is an outlier. Which leaves runner beans as the answer.
Now, remember, these are only tips and knowledge is the best way to pass any multiple choice. But at some point, you’ll be stumped, so put some tactics into your guesswork. Good luck…
 

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