Exam Preparation - Multiple Choice Exams

The following information is from CornellUniversity and is adapted from Walter Pauk's book How to Study in College. A direct link to the following information is provided in the Resources appendix.

The Center for Learning & Teaching at CornellUniversity gives the following advice:

  • Cope with Qualifiers
    • Qualifiers are words that alter a statement. Words like always, most, equal, good, and bad. In a multiple-choice test, qualifiers can make an option on a test questionbe a correct option or an incorrect option. For example, the following two statements are nearlyidentical: "It often rains in Seattle." "It always rains in Seattle." The first statement is true, whilethe word always in the second statement makes it false.
    • Keep careful track of qualifiers bycircling them when they appear in a test question or in the answer options.
    • To beat qualifiers, you need to know the qualifier families:
      • All, most, some, none (no)
      • Always, usually, sometimes, never
      • Great, much, little, no
      • More, equal, less
      • Good, bad
      • Is, is not
    • Whenever one qualifier from a family is used in an answer option, substitute each of the others for it in turn. Then you can tell which of the qualifiers fits best. If the best qualifier is the one in the answer option, then the option is true; if the best qualifier is another one from the family, then the answer option is false.
  • Notice Negatives
    • Negatives can be words like no, not, none and never, or they can be prefixes like il-, as in illogical, un-, as in uninterested, im-, as in impatient. Notice negatives because they can reverse the meaning of a sentence. For example, in this answer option, the prefix in- in indistinguishable causes the statement to be false:
      • "Because it is a liquid at room temperature, mercury is indistinguishable from other metals."
    • Each negative reverses the meaning of a sentence. With two negatives, the question's meaning should be the same as it was without. For example, the first statement below has no negatives. It is obviously true. The second statement has two negatives. Since each negative reverses the meaning of the sentence, it is also true, but it is harder to identify as true.
      • "It is logical to assume that Thomas Edison's fame was due to his many practical inventions."
      • "It is illogical to assume that Thomas Edison's fame was not due to his many practical inventions."
    • When you find negatives in a question, circle them. Try to determine the meaning of the question or statement without the negative. This will help you determine if the answer option is true or false.
  • Choose the Best Response
    • Many options in a multiple-choice answer may have some truth to them. You want to identify the best response from the good responses. If you have eliminated other answer options and have narrowed it down to two, and both seem true, try to pick the answer option that is in some way better than one that is just good. Be sure to reread the stem (or question) over when selecting the best answer.
  • Use Grammatical Clues
    • Although questions follow different formats, all must follow the rules of grammar. You can eliminate answer options that do not make sense grammatically even if they contain correct information. Consider this example:
      • The people of Iceland
        1. a country located just outside the Arctic Circle
        2. are the world's most avid readers
        3. claim to be descendents of the Aztecs
        4. the capital, Reykjavik, where arms talks have been held
      • Answer option (a) is missing the verb, and answer option (d) has no connection to "the people of Iceland". These options can be eliminated, even though both are true, and you are left with options (b) and (c).
  • Mark Only "Sure Things" First, Make 3 "Passes" through the Test
    • Go through the test first and answer all the questions for which the answers come easily. For the questions that seem more difficult, mark the qualifiers and negatives and eliminate as many options as you can. This will give you a head start for your second pass. You may come across another question that gives you a clue to the one that stumped you. On your second pass, take the extra time to figure out the best of the rest of the answer options. On your third pass, take an educated guess at the questions that are still elusive because any answer is better than no answer.
Final Words
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