How to Prepare for a Multiple Choice Exam
Studying for a multiple choice exam requires a special method of preparation distinctly different from an essay exam. Multiple choice exams ask a student to recognize a correct answer among a set of options that include 3 or 4 wrong answers (called distractors ), rather than asking the student to produce a correct answer entirely from his/her own mind.
For many reasons, students commonly consider multiple choice
exams easier than essay exams.
Perhaps the most obvious reasons
- The correct answer is guaranteed to be among the possible responses. A student can score points with a lucky guess.
- Many multiple choice exams tend to emphasize basic definitions or simple comparisons, rather than asking students to analyze new information or apply theories to new situations.
- Because multiple choice exams usually contain many more questions than essay exams, each question has a lower point value and thus offers less risk.
Despite these factors, however, multiple choice exams can actually
be very difficult.
- Because multiple choice exams contain many questions, they force students to be familiar with a much broader range of material than essay exams do.
- Multiple choice exams also usually expect students to have a greater familiarity with details such as specific dates, names, or vocabulary than most essay exams do. Students cannot easily "bluff" on a multiple choice exam.
- Finally, because it is much more difficult for a teacher to write good multiple choice questions than to design essay questions, students often face higher risks due to unintended ambiguity.
- Begin studying early.
- Make sure that you identify and understand thoroughly everything that your instructor emphasized in class.
- As you study your class notes and your assigned readings,
make lists and tables.
Concentrate on understanding multi-step processes, and on ideas, events, or objects that form natural sequences or groupings. Look for similarities and differences that might be used to distinguish correct choices from distractors on an exam.
If your textbook highlights new vocabulary or key definitions, be sure that you understand them. Sometimes new words and concepts are collected at the end of a chapter. Check to be sure that you have not left any out by mistake.
Do not simply memorize the book's definitions. Most instructors will rephrase things in their own words as they write exam questions, so you must be sure that you really know what the definitions mean.
- Brainstorm possible questions with several other students who are also taking the course.
- Practice on sample questions, if you have access to a study
guide or old exams.
A study guide may emphasize different ideas or use a slightly different vocabulary than your instructor prefers.
Multiple choice exams tend to focus on details, and you cannot retain many details effectively in short-term memory. If you learn a little bit each day and allow plenty of time for repeated reviews, you will build a much more reliable long-term memory.
Pay particular attention to fundamental terms and concepts that describe important events or features, or that tie related ideas and observations together. These are the items that most commonly appear on multiple choice exams.
Answering a Multiple Choice Exam in Class
See Social Psychology Network's Tips on Taking Multiple-Choice Tests: Taking the Test