Professors rarely expect students to only memorize course content.  They will also expect students to understand and apply what they learn.  The “most correct” answer often requires that students apply critical thinking skills to answer correctly.  This is very different from choosing “the correct answer”.


Manage your test time.

·        Read instructions and questions carefully.

·        First answer all questions that you know.

·        Skip around to find information that may trigger something you know.


Carefully read each question.

·        Cover the Answers, with scrap paper if possible.

·        Note key words and verbs

·        Break the question into shorter parts

·        Re-phrase the information so that it can be more easily understood.  Ex: Turn questions into statements, or turn statements into questions.


Eliminate what you know to be the incorrect choices.

·        Hide the choices.  Answer the question “in your head”.

·        Read ALL options: a), b), c) and d)

·        Think about the “correct answer” that you know from studying, and then ask yourself, “Which response is the most similar to that answer?”

·        Watch out for distractors: phrases, words or entire choices that are unrelated to the question at-hand.

·        Eliminate the two options that are obviously wrong.  This gives you a 50% chance of being correct.


Become familiar with the language used in multiple choice exam questions.

·        Understand absolute or qualifying words: always, sometimes, not, every, none are words not typically found in a correct answer.  Words such as generally, usually, often, rarely, seldom can indicate a correct response.

·        Be aware of double negatives.  They often indicate a positive.

·        Check the grammar in the question to ensure it matches the grammar in the answer.

·        Look for longer answers for more complex questions.  It often can take more words to explain something that is more complex.


Other Strategies

·        Be aware of answers that look too similar to the question.  These often are incorrect.

·        If an answer is a number, consider choosing a number that is in the middle of a range (and not the highest or lowest in the group).

·        Practice in advance.  Use textbooks tests at the end of chapters, and ask your professor for practice questions.

·        Conduct a post-test analysis after each exam to understand where you have the most difficulty with this style of exam.




Purdue University Academic Success Centre (retrieved December 2015) Guidelines for Taking a Multiple Choice Exam Study Guides and Strategies (2016) 

Utah State University Academic Success Centre. Test Strategies for Objective Tests. (2016).

  1. Be prepared to go beyond material covered in the lectures and textbook. Think about relationships between concepts.
  2. Get enough sleep, have all your materials ready, dress comfortably, avoid panicky students, and try to stay calm on test day.
  3. Go over the entire test first to get an idea of the style of questions.
  4. Write down formulas, lists, or keywords as soon as you get the test.
  5. Determine how much time you have for each question or section.
  6. Do the easy questions first.
  7. For essays, take a few minutes to plan what you’re going to write.
  8. Review the exam at the end.
  9. Multiple choice questions do not always follow a specific pattern. Don’t fall into the trap of “picking C when in doubt” or changing answers because you see a pattern on your answer sheet. Read each choice and pick the best correct answer.
  10. For multiple choice questions, cover up the choices before reading the question. Think of the answer before selecting from the list given.

Do you review all readings and lecture notes on a daily and weekly basis?

TIP – Reviewing new learning within 24 hours means you retain more.

Do you analyze homework, quizzes, and exams for patterns/connections?

TIP – Learn to ‘read’ your professor – they are giving you clues about what is important.

Do you attend all classes and use effective note taking strategies?

TIP – Can you find the answers to test questions in your notes? Try different note taking strategies like mapping or charting your notes. Get missed notes from classmates.

Do you ask your professor/classmates for help with unclear material?

TIP – START NOW. Know where you can go for help outside of class.

Do you use strategies that match your learning strengths?

TIP – When using flash cards, you may want to use examples, colour, drawings, to go along with the words/terms and/or it may help to review aloud with friends/study group.

Do you study with a classmate or a group?

TIP – You can learn up to 4 times more effectively with others than you can alone. If you’re not ready for group study, start with one classmate.

Do you identify possible exam questions?

TIP – Creating quiz/exam questions and testing yourself reinforces and practices your retrieval skills which is what you are using on an exam.

Do you learn course material in-depth enough that you could explain it to someone else?

TIP – It doesn’t need to be someone in your class, it can be a friend, family member. If you can successfully explain it to someone who doesn’t know it – you do.

Do you schedule short review periods rather than long cramming sessions?

TIP – Take a quick 1 minute stretch break every 30 minutes and 5 minutes every hour.

Do you get reasonable amounts of food, sleep and exercise before the exam to help reduce stress?

TIP – Sleep improves the brain’s ability to remember information. You don’t need to go to the gym – just ‘move’ – take a walk, do some stretches, meditate.

Do you create a calendar or schedule so that you know exactly what you need (notes, review questions) and how much time you need to prepare?

TIP – Creating a schedule is good, looking at it is critical – put it someplace you will see it daily.

Do you ensure that you have a positive attitude about your ability to complete your exam successfully?

TIP – Attitude counts! Focus on the positive and try to avoid negative self-talk.