Multiple Choice Tests

Multiple-choice tests are a curious breed.  Those in favor of using them as a standardized method of testing will swear by the years of research and practice done to make multiple-choice tests reflect learning.  Those against the format will argue that they are too subjective and not a good measurement tool for many non-subjective courses—such as philosophy of art, for example—that they do not reflect what a learner knows or what a learner can do.  Still others see this type of exam only good for testing how well a person takes tests or how well the teacher administers them.

Regardless of the conflicting opinions of and attitudes toward multiple-choice tests, by the time a person has reached high school graduation he/she has taken some number of them, be they for a class, for a national college board, or for the military.

Following are a few general tips on test-taking:

Practice at Home Using the Same Format. 
As well, follow the advice of those who believe in in-state learning: whatever state you will be in for the test is the state you should be in while you study.  Some of these theories were developed using alcohol and drugs, so that if one were high during study, that person would do better (!) if high while testing…but you don’t have to go to these extremes.  Just be rested for study, and rested for the test.  Or eat well for studying and eat just as well before the test.

Follow Directions – Sometimes part of the test aim is to find out how well students follow directions.  I once took a test in high school that had one direction at the top of the page, followed by thirty questions.  The instructions included this prompt: Only do numbers 3, 4, 5, and 10.  The whole test was, then, a trick of sorts…to see who not only followed directions but bothered to read them!

Budget Your Time – Though you don’t want to get obsessive, checking the clock every minute, you do want to balance time spent on each question.  So at the start of the test, knowing how many questions there are and how much time you have, allocate a few minutes for each question.  If you find yourself stuck on one, move on, and if you have any spare time, come back to the question you need to answer.  (You might even find that after taking the focus off the particular problem that you are freshly approaching it now and can answer with more ease!)

Check Your Test Before Turning it in – If you have time (or make time), go over the answers once more, just in case you missed one or need to re-do one.

Read through Every Prompt and All Answers – We might be tempted to treat multiple choice tests the way we approach trivia quizzes or horse race betting theories (go with your first hunch), but this might not always work.  Whereas letter a. might feel absolutely right, letter d. might be even better.

Watch for Clever Word Usage in the Prompts – Though testers and teachers don’t typically play games with our grades, there may be a manner of testing that requires closer attention.  Such words to watch for are the clarifiers, qualifiers, or absolutes:  for example, words or phrases like “always”, “never”, “used to be”, “except” are specific to the question.  So if you are told that all of the following items are ways to start a business “except” one…find the one that is the exception.  If a word like “always” shows up in the question, look at all the possible answers for the one that will fit the always criteria.

And as is part of the nature of subjective tests like multiple choice tests, give the answers a break by not demanding they be perfectly right on.  That is, when choosing, the best you can do is choose the “best possible answer.”  The rest will be up to the examiner and to the ever-continuing battle over whether there is any such thing as a “right” answer for many of these exams.