The Best Way to Take a Multiple Choice Test

I’ve given my students a lot of Multiple Choice Tests, and every time, I always tell them the same thing: There is absolutely no rule that says you need to do question number one first, followed by question number two, three, four, etc. Please do all the problems you know how to do first. Do the easy problems that you read and know exactly what to do. If it looks like the problem will take too much effort, or you’re unsure how to do it, skip it and come back to it later. There is nothing worse than not having enough time at the end of an exam and realizing that there are ten questions you didn’t get to that you know how to do. We can avoid this by doing all the problems we know how to do first, which also helps build our confidence. Feeling good and remembering some of the things you need to know primes your brain for more difficult problems. You’ll start to recall the information you’ve studied and practiced.

75% Problems

multiple choice test

Once you’ve completed those problems and skipped everything else, go back through the test a second time and locate the moderate problems. I like to call these the 75% questions where you have a pretty good idea of how to do them, but it will require some steps. You might have some questions or issues recalling the information. You feel pretty confident but have some reservations. Depending on how much you know, you could have completed almost everything on the test or maybe only a few questions. Still, go through the test again.

The Most Difficult Questions

Now, it’s time to tackle the most difficult questions, the ones you originally looked at had no idea what to do or how to do it. If you run out of time on your exam and these are the only remaining questions, there’s a good chance you’ve got a 50-50 shot. You’ve got a 50% chance of getting them right and a 50% shot of getting them wrong, but they will take a lot of brainpower and require a lot of steps. Hopefully, by having covered the easy and moderate problems, you’ve recalled a lot of information that will prepare you for these more difficult problems. If not, that’s okay. Skip it if you’ve gone over the problem and are still confused. Move on to the next difficult problem. I cannot tell you how often I have skipped a problem and gone back to it. By the third or fourth time I read through the question, it finally made sense, and I could solve it. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t understand it the first, second, or third time. Keep working. Our goal is to build momentum, keep going, and keep trying.

Check for Mistakes

The final check was always the make-or-break moment for me when taking tests. I would always make simple mistakes. Do not overlook the easy, moderate, or most difficult problems. Look through everything. Go over some of the answer choices and look at your work carefully. Did you leave out parentheses and make mistakes in the rest of the problem as a result? Go back over and look everything over. I usually caught a couple of obvious mistakes I couldn’t believe I made. You’re not always going to have time, and that’s okay, but if you do, please don’t just submit your test early. Go through and review your work. There’s nothing more frustrating than not getting the grade you wanted when you had time to check your work and didn’t.

Bonus Tips

For multiple choice tests, always look at the answers before you start working. Free-response questions will often be multi-step. Look at your previous answers, other questions, and how the free-response question is broken down to guide you.

One thing I used to love to do was estimate what grade I could expect. If you still have time, take all the problems you were completely confident about, the “100% I know how to do these” questions, and add them up. Next, add up all the 75% questions and multiply the sum by .75 because we’re assuming you’ll only get 75% of those correct. Then, total the most difficult problems and multiply your number by .5. We’re assuming you’re going to get 50% of them correct. Add all of those numbers and divide by the total number of questions on your exam to get the grade you can expect to receive.

You might want to add a small penalty of 1 to 3% for any potential mistakes. Either way, it’s interesting to see how close your estimate was to your actual score when you get your exam back. If you did better on your exam than you guessed, congratulations! You outperformed what you thought you would, and that’s a great feeling. You shouldn’t feel bad if you got exactly what you expected. If you got below what you expected, there are some things you’ll want to review. I’ll have another post about what to do when you get your answers back. If you want to see more on how to succeed on your next test or exam, check out my examples below. I’ll see you next time.

Do This First When You Get Back Your Math Test –

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