Guide to the Multiple Choice Exam

At some point, nearly all students will come up against a multiple choice exam. Some students might think that multiple choice tests are easier than other formats because the answer is given to them as an option, yet this is not always the case. Sometimes all those options can be confusing. Teachers might even try and trick students with options that are common mistakes. All the selections, plus the general stress of test-taking, can make an upcoming multiple choice exam stressful. However, there are some methods, tips, and tricks which can help anyone succeed at a multiple choice exam.


It goes without saying that studying is the first step to passing any big exam. For multiple choice exams in particular, it can be helpful to take careful notes in class. Students will benefit from highlighting in their notes instances when the teacher says something along the lines of “a common mistake with this problem” or “people often think this, but they are wrong”. By understanding the common errors made while being tested on course material, students are more likely to not fall for any trick answer options on a multiple choice test. Also, basic studying rules still apply for multiple choice exams including –

  • Studying daily, rather than cramming at the last moment
  • Asking questions during class time
  • Keeping past assignments to study from


Practice Makes Perfect

When it comes to multiple choice exams, whether for a class or a standardized test, teachers, and organizations administering the test often have old exams which they are happy to let students use for studying. These tests are typically in the same format as upcoming exams. Things to notice on a practice exam include:

  • The layout of the test
  • How many questions are on it
  • How many multiple choice options are provided
  • How long each problem typically takes to answer

When students take time to practice from older exams or prepared multiple choice study guides, they will do better on test day.


Timing on Testing Day

When it actually comes time to take the exam, students can use the first few minutes of testing time to add up how many multiple choice questions there are and dividing number into the amount of minutes they have to work on the test. This will give them an idea of how long they have for each problem. If they get stuck on one problem, they can skip it and go back later. This ensures they will answer as many problems as possible. Also, these few extra moments at the beginning of the test can be used to thoroughly read the instructions, which typically are self-explanatory, but occasionally have vital nugget of information.


And the Answer is…

Students who formulate an answer to each problem before looking at the choices are often more likely to get question correct. This is because they already have an answer in mind, and are less likely to be fooled by other choices. Also, it can be most time effective for a test-taker to answer all the questions they are sure about their first time through the test. Then, when they go back for a second time to answer any blank problems, they will have time to mull over questions they did not know the answer to. This way if time runs out, and some questions are left unanswered, at least the ones that are finished are more likely to be correct.


Little Known Tricks on Guessing

Sometimes students will come across a problem they do not know how to answer. This leaves them with the options of either skipping the question, or guessing. If the test is being graded so that skipping a problem deducts as many points as a wrong answer, then guessing is the way to go. Here are some tricks to guessing the correct answer:

  • Words such as “always”,“never”, “every”, or “none” are superlatives that indicate the answer is absolute, which can be rare in social sciences
  • Words such as “usually”, “often”, or “may” are qualifiers that could indicate a true statement
  • If one of the choices is “all of the above” and a student knows that at least two of the answer choices are correct, the answer is likely to be “all of the above”
  • Rule out as many options that are definitely wrong, and guess from the remaining choices


Helpful Resources

Social Psychology Network’s Guide to Multiple Choice Tests – A psychological approach on the best ways to prepare for multiple choice tests for students of all ages.

University of Missouri eThemes Guide for Elementary Grades – Preparation advice for school age students specific to multiple choice tests.


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