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A close-up image of a pencil erasing answers on a scantron form

Tips for Multiple Choice Exams

By Natalie Umberger

Multiple choice questions usually include a phrase or stem
followed by three to five options:

Test strategies:

• Read the directions carefully

  • Know if each question has one or more correct option
  • Know if you are penalized for guessing
  • Know how much time is allowed (this governs your strategy)

• Preview the test

  • Read through the test quickly and answer the easiest questions first
  • Mark those you think you know in some way that is appropriate

• Read through the test a second time and answer more difficult questions

  • You may pick up cues for answers from the first reading, or become more comfortable in the testing situation

• If time allows, review both questions and answers

  • It is possible you mis-read questions the first time.

Answering options:

Improve your odds, think critically

• Cover the options, read the stem, and try to answer

  • Select the option that most closely matches your answer

• Read the stem with each option

  • Treat each option as a true-false question, and choose the "most true"

Strategies to answer difficult questions:

• Eliminate options you know to be incorrect

  • If allowed, mark words or alternatives in questions that eliminate the option

• Give each option of a question the "true-false test:"

  • This may reduce your selection to the best answer

• Question options that grammatically don't fit with the stem

• Question options that are totally unfamiliar to you

• Question options that contain negative or absolute words.

  • Try substituting a qualified term for the absolute one, like frequently for always; or typical for every to see if you can eliminate it

• "All of the above:"

  • If you know two of three options seem correct, "all of the above" is a strong possibility

• Number answers:

  • Toss out the high and low and consider the middle range numbers

• "Look alike options"

  • Probably one is correct; choose the best but eliminate choices that mean basically the same thing, and thus cancel each other out

• Double negatives:

  • Create the equivalent positive statement and consider

• Echo options:

  • If two options are opposite each other, chances are one of them is correct

• Favor options that contain qualifiers

  • The result is longer, more inclusive items that better fill the role of the answer

• If two alternatives seem correct,

  • Compare them for differences,
  • Then refer to the stem to find your best answer


• Always guess when there is no penalty for guessing or you can eliminate options

• Don't guess if you are penalized for guessing and if you have no basis for your choice

• Use hints from questions you know to answer questions you do not.

• Change your first answers when you are sure of the correction, or other cues in the test cue you to change.

• Remember that you are looking for the best answer, not only a correct one, and not one which must be true all of the time, in all cases, and without exception.


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Tips for Multiple Choice Exams (pdf)