How to Answer Multiple Choice Questions

The most popular type of standard test is multiple choice, or multiple guess. Teachers like them because teaching assistants can easily grade them. Smart students also like multiple choice because they know they can earn extra points by being prepared.

Almost all Certification Exams are multiple choice, including Armed Services Entrance Exams, College EntranceHigh School, and Nursing

Types of Multiple Choice Tests

There are two types of multiple-choice tests. The first type has far too many questions than can be answered in the allotted time. Often, the questions are relatively easy if you are not panicking. This type of exam measures one’s ability to think under time pressure.  Points are not deducted for incorrect answers.

The second type of test has fewer questions of varying difficulty, to be answered in an reasonable amount of time. This type of exam measures student’s competence in a subject. To ensure students do not depend on guesswork, some exams like the SAT and ACT give ample time to answer, but deduct partial or full points for every incorrect answer.

Too Many Questions, So Little Time

For tests where there are a greater number of questions than can be answered in the time allowed, the most important strategy, in addition to the tips and strategies below, is to mark and skip hard questions. Remember that questions of this type can be answered without thinking too much, so if you cannot remember the answer or compute the solution in thirty seconds, you probably won’t be able to answer it at all.

Types of Multiple Choice Questions

There are various types of multiple-choice questions. Some tests will use just one, others will use several, or even all of them. Below are the most common types of multiple-choice questions you are likely to encounter.

  1. The “Who, What, Where Question.” This is the simplest, most basic form of multiple-choice question. It asks for you to recall a single, simple fact about the material.

For example:

Where did the Wright Brothers fly their first airplane?

A. Richmond, VA
B. Kitty Hawk, NC
C. Charlotte, NC
D. Philadelphia, PA

The correct answer is B. This question simply asks for you to correctly identify a place name.

  1. The “Multiple-Answer” Multiple-Choice Question. This one varies from the “Who, What, Where” question in that more than one answer could be correct. For example,

Which of the following was not a declared war by the U.S. Congress?

I. World War I
II. World War II
III. The Korean War

A. The Vietnam War
B. I only
C. I and II only
D. III only
E. IV only
F. III and IV only

The correct answer here is E; neither the Korean nor Vietnam Wars were declared a war by Congress. These questions are tricky because many people are tempted, when they see a right answer, to select it, without thinking there may be an­other answer that’s also correct.   Looking quickly at the choices, choice C is correct, but choice E is the best answer.

The “Best Answer” Multiple-choice Question. On this type, the there might not be one clear objective answer, but rather, you’re required to select the choice that comes closest to being right. For example:

The factor which was the most to blame for the 1986 explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger was:

A. It launched too early in the morning.
B. The cold weather allowed ice to develop.
C. The astronauts did not have enough sleep.
D. The astronauts were not adequately trained.

While it’s entirely possible that C or D might have played a role, it’s now commonly believed that the cause of the crash was ice which had built up on the Shuttle’s “O” rings. Some answers are pos­sible, but B is the best answer.

The “Fill in the Blank” Multiple-choice Question. This is frequently used on grammar and reading comprehension tests. The question is presented as a sentence, with one or two key words left out. You must choose the correct one to fill the blank. Example:

The animals at the zoo _________________ by the visitors.

A. Did not feed
B. Cannot fed
C. Should not be fed
D. Never feeding

The answer is C, since “The animals at the zoo should not be fed by the visitors” is the only one that is grammatically correct.

Most the multiple-choice questions you’ll encounter will fall into one above categories, although it’s possible you might also encounter a strange hybrid of two or three types.

Who Does Well on Multiple-Choice Exams?

Is there a way to improve your chances and your score on multiple-choice tests? There is! The point of this article is not to discourage you, but to make you aware that there are strategies and tips that you can incorporate to raise your test score. Before we get into the specific strategies, let’s take a general look at who does well on multiple-choice tests.

Those who know the material. This should go with­out saying, but the thing that will most raise your test score will be if you know your stuff. While the strategies we’ll discuss later will help you even with questions you’re unsure of, the surest thing you can do is learn the rules, dates, names, and concepts that you’ll be tested on.

Those who have a calm, cool demeanor when taking a test. Panicking can cause you to forget what you think you know. Confidence goes a long way toward a better mark on multiple-choice.

Those who meditate or pray before the test. Don’t laugh. It’s a known fact that people who meditate or pray, depending on their beliefs, enter a test room more confidently, and do better on the exam.  If you don’t want to pray or meditate, do something to calm your mind.

Those who operate on logic rather than instinct. Those who take a multiple-choice test based on instinct will be tempted to overlook the stated facts, and let emotion rule.

Those who have a system. Most of the book will deal with this, but you should not just guess randomly on questions you don’t know. You must have a systematic strategy.


Multiple-Choice Strategies and Tips

Note how many questions are in each section.
Then calculate how long you can allot for each question.  In most cases, you should spend no more than 20 or 30 seconds on each question.  If you get stuck, skip it and move along.  If you have time left, come back to it.  More on Managing Exam Time

Resist the temptation to answer the question before you have read it all the way through.  Stopping too soon and you could miss an important detail that changes the answer.  More on Reading Exam Instructions.

What are the givens in the questions – find and study them.  

Read fast but read every word. If you need practice, give yourself a race by using practice tests. (You are getting and going over every practice test you can right?) Practice this skill until you have learned it well.

Look carefully at the ‘given’ part of a question. If there are several complicated parts, isolate each one. Make sure you understand each part thoroughly. Before selecting your answer, compare it with each isolated part. Remember the answer you choose must coincide with every part. Studies show taking apart complicated questions is an effective strategy and will almost certainly score extra points.

Think before you choose

You have read the question all the way through.  Now think about your answer before you look at the choices. You can save time if your answer is one of the choices. If you answer isn’t there, then study the choices. This may jog your memory.

A well-designed multiple-choice will contain clues in the question that will help you to recognize the best choice answer. If you are stuck, re-read the question and look for clues.

Be alert and don’t fall for traps. Read all the choices first. Keep moving through the questions quickly and methodically.

Answer the question according to the instructions.

This is a simple way to get extra points every time. Read the instructions carefully and follow them exactly.

The instructions on most multiple-choice tests ask for the best answer.  The means the best answer according to what your professor wants, not what you want.  Choose the best answer according to your teacher not according to you.

Watch out for questions that have ‘all of the above’ or ‘none of the above.’ If there are two other choices, one of them is correct. The same applies if ‘all of the above’ and ‘none of the above’ are two of the choices. Stick with the first two choices.

Pay close attention to questions that are phrased in an unusual way or that use single words to change the question’s meaning.

Do not waste your time looking for hidden meanings or tricks. The simplest answer is the generally the right answer.

Elimination is the most powerful technique

Tips for eliminating choices:

– Read all the choices first. Eliminate choices that are obviously wrong.
– Eliminate answers that are partially wrong. If any parts of them are wrong, they are completely wrong. If the question is poorly written, you can talk to your teacher after you get your graded exam back.
– Avoid answers that look as though they are correct but aren’t. The answer may be correct but does not apply to one aspect or part of the question.
– When looking at the possible answers, you may notice two answers that are the exact opposite of each other. Normally one of these is the correct answer.
– A lot of answers are close to being the same but are just a little different. Sometimes it’s just a different word which changes the meaning. The correct answer is often one of the two. Look closely at the answers and notice the differences. The small differences will decide which one is the correct answer.

Look for Clues.

You will not always be able to find the correct answers when looking at the clue words. Sometimes deliberately wrong clues are added as a trap. If none of the other strategies has worked for you, look for clues.

Sometimes clues to the correct answer will appear in other questions.

Grammatical clues

The correct answer will be grammatically correct. Any choices that are not grammatically correct can be eliminated immediately.  Most standardized tests today are computerized and the responses are scrutinized more carefully.   If your test is made by your instructor, you may see this type of clue.

Watch for absolutes and qualifiers

Generally, answers that have always, never, all, and none are not correct. Very few things are absolutely true or absolutely false. Teacher will try to avoid arguments about answers and put in qualifiers like seldom, generally, and tend to be.

Do you recognize any of the phrases?

When teachers prepare their own tests, some questions will naturally flow with one of the answers. It is as if they are taken verbatim out of the textbook, which they may well be.  Similarly, the wording of things like theorems or axioms are often the exact wording from the textbook.  Watch carefully and examine all the choice looking for this pattern, then follow your intuition and choose the answer.

Look for degrees of correctness

When it comes to numbers or time such as dates, there will always be two answers that are completely outside the area of being correct. For numbers, there will be one that is too big and one that is too small. For times such as dates, one will too early and the other too late.

For answers that are either too detailed or too vague, the one that is too vague is likely to be the correct answer. If the vague answers uses some or all of the detailed answer, then it is definitely the correct answer.

If two answers are similar, one of them is generally the correct answer.

Do not assume facts. The only facts that you need to be concerned with are the facts given in the question. If the question tells you that unicorns exist, do not argue with the question.

Do not ignore any fact. Remember that multiple choice questions are concise and so its writers try very hard to put all the necessary facts in it.

Every question is an isolated question. There are no patterns in multiple choice exams. Just because you have answered ‘C’ for ten consecutive times, it doesn’t mean the next answer will be ‘C.’ Many myths have been told that the answer that appears more commonly is the best guess. There is no truth in that belief. Many multiple-choice exams are now generated and corrected by computers so it is less likely that there are patterns.

Guessing is a good strategy if all else fails

It would obviously be dangerous to guess randomly on every question. You would be lucky if your grade was 25%. You don’t need to make random guesses. On any multiple choice test you can often discard two of the four answers.  This could give you a grade of over 50% just by guessing alone. Use your smarts and take that grade higher past 80% and into “A” territory.

OK – Now you Know the Answer

Be sure you put your answers in the right spot.

If you fill in the wrong oval for a question, it could throw off every other question after that. Fill in answers on the answer sheet carefully and methodically.  See also Common Mistakes on a Test

Keep Going, Never Quit

Use the strategies here and keep going. Watch for words that count. Look for tricks; take a guess at answers by reading a section of the question. Quickly look at the choices for answers that the teacher would prefer. Eliminate ridiculous answers immediately so you can make an educated guess. Just by moving quickly and steadily you put the odds in your favor.

It is OK to change the Answers

The saying “never change an answer” is a complete myth.  Results have shown that when you have a feeling to change an answer, that feeling is usually right. If you are sure you have marked an answer incorrectly, don’t hesitate to change it. Do not keep changing it again and again – you will just get confused.

Be Careful!

Not all these tips and strategies are foolproof, and they won’t work on over type of multiple-choice question or test – but they are better than taking an off-the-wall guess. So be careful!

Remember – it is only a few marks that separate an “A” from an “A-.”  Hopefully these strategies will give you that extra few marks!



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Modified: September 11th, 2018 September 11th, 2018
: October 26th, 2007

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