A multiple choice test always sounds easy until you’re in the exam room trying to choose between two options with no idea what the correct answer is.
There’s no one way to hack an exam, but you can take advantage of certain strategies and tips to make sure that you are as well-prepared as possible when you step to the table.
These aren’t foolproof solutions, but they can definitely help you boost your grade.
1. Answer the easy ones first
Before you start, take a quick look through the entire exam and highlight the questions you can answer most confidently, then go back and answer these questions first. This way you won’t miss out on any potential easy points.
Make sure you answer all the questions you know before attempting any guesses.
2. Keep track of time
Never spend too long answering a question. Falling behind and being crunched for time can prevent you from even getting a chance to answer all of the questions, including any easy ones that might appear toward the end.
If you are taking a long time to answer one question, it is best to just move on for the time being. You can always come back. But make sure you mark the question first.
3. Eliminate wrong answers
It’s called the process of elimination. Get rid of the answers that you know are incorrect to decrease your options and increase your likelihood to select the best answer. When none of the answers sound right, go with the option that sounds the least wrong.
4. “True” is better than “false”
William Poundstone, author of “How to Predict the Unpredictable: The Art of Outsmarting Almost Everyone,” combed through online archives of over 100 tests with answer keys in an attempt to spot trends in exams, including whether “true” or “false” appeared more frequently.
He found that “true” is, in fact, better than “false.” “True” answers appeared 56 percent of the time in comparison to 44 percent “false.”
5. When in doubt, choose B (or E)
Poundstone’s book gives us another valuable insight here. The conventional wisdom is to select (C), but his research suggested differently. It turns out that in questions with four answers (that is, with (A), (B), (C), and (D) as options), the most common answer was (B), which was correct 28 percent of the time.
On questions with five possible answers, the last answer (E) was correct most frequently, and in fact appeared six percent more frequently than the least common answer, which was the middle answer (C). (E) appeared as a correct answer 23 percent of the time over a mere 17 percent for (C).
Poundstone also noted that a “none of the above” or “all of the above” answer was very likely to be correct, being the right choice a whopping 52 percent of the time.
6. If you really don’t know, just guess
On multiple choice tests, it’s better to leave your best guess than nothing. There’s no reason to skip it and miss even a chance to get it right. If you’re unsure about your answer, you should mark the question and come back later if you have time.
7. Read the questions closely
One surefire way to miss points on an exam is to breeze through an exam skimming over the questions. Watch for potentially tricky questions with leads like “Which of the following is NOT…” or “Mark ALL answers that apply.” These kinds of questions can be easy to read incorrectly, leading to a potentially wrong answer that would otherwise be easy to avoid.
Similarly, read all of the answers listed closely so you don’t accidentally skip over the correct option.
8. Strike the outliers
Generally speaking, on questions where one answer is substantially different from the rest, there is a good chance that answer is incorrect. Looking for trends within questions can be a good way to boil your answer down to the most likely choice.
9. Study the material
At the end of the day, there are no test strategies that will lead you to the right answer 100 percent of the time. The easiest and most effective way to ensure that you are prepared for an exam is to … wait for it … prepare for the exam.
That means sitting down with your textbook and actually learning the material.
Sam Benezra is a graduate of Ohio University with a B.A. in History from the Honors Tutorial College. He is a native of Brooklyn, New York. Sam enjoys writing on a variety of subjects, including science, music, politics, film. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling, playing guitar, and writing songs.