Keep up and keep calm
A guide to acing your multiple choice exam
Some students love multiple choice exams, because even if you don’t remember anything about the subject matter, you have a one in four chance of getting the answer right. Others hate that it’s impossible to bluff your way through them. If you’re one of the haters, it’s important to know that multiple choice tests ask for a different study strategy than an essay test.
Practice makes perfect
Multiple choice exams are common in courses which cover a lot of factual information. This means that the most important strategy is to stay up to date with your study materials. If this wasn’t obvious to you yet, it may be too late now that the exam period has started.
In that case, keep it in mind for future success. If you keep up with the reading material and assignments and take effective notes and summarise the information on a regular basis, you’re already halfway there.
Another good reason not to skip class is because ‘it will give you a good idea of the sort of questions that will be asked’, says Karen Huizing, psychologist and study trainer at the RUG. ‘That way, you can find out whether you need to focus on details or on the bigger picture.’
A sure way to forget those essential details and confuse terms is to not start studying until three days before the exam. The info needs to be in your long-term memory so you can make quick connections.
If you are lucky enough to have access to sample questions or exams from previous years, test your skills. Not just once, but several times. If your teacher doesn’t provide them, you may be able to find them on sites like Stuvia and StudeerSnel – but you’ll have to pay for them.
Otherwise, says Huizing, you should try to get inside your professor’s head and make your own mock exam. Ask yourself at the end of each chapter: if I were the teacher, what kind of questions would I ask about this? What comparisons can be drawn, what differences and similarities are there? ‘Practise formulating answers that are relevant and compact.’
Mock exams will help you make connections between concepts while also getting yourself prepared for the mental stress that is choosing one out of five options.
Don’t forget to include wrong answers and similar concepts in your DIY mock exam. Remember that some questions will test for a thorough understanding of course concepts, while others will test for knowledge of details and specific terminology. Exchange questions with classmates to obtain a more comprehensive pool of practice tests.
Don’t get complacent
There always comes a point where you feel you know everything. Maybe you don’t know everything by heart, and some concepts are still blurry, but you understand the whole picture and feel like that’s enough for a multiple choice exam.
WRONG! A common mistake students make when preparing for multiple choice exams is to study to the point where they can recognise the correct answer straight away. But the exam won’t test you on the course material exactly as it was covered in class. It will ask questions in a different format or context, to test real knowledge and the students’ ability to apply facts in new scenarios.
To ensure you can do more than pick the right answer out of four or five options, test your knowledge along the way. Once you are done reviewing a section, summarise it in your own words or try to explain the information to a friend or a classmate. This will allow you to re-organise and transform the material.
Find out about your exam
Some teachers send their students an email reminder the day before an exam. Use that as a prompt to prepare as best as you can. Is it an open book exam? If so, don’t assume that you will have time to look up answers (you probably won’t). Tab the important pages to find them quickly or craft a one page sheet with all the essential info, instead of relying on the whole book.
Is it an online exam? You’ll want to know whether you can only see one question at a time or if you can scroll through the entire exam. If it’s the first, do you have to answer each question before going on to the next one? Will you be able to go back and forth between questions to change answers?
If your exam restricts you from changing answers or reading ahead, it might cause you extra stress that you really don’t need during an exam. Try to find out these details beforehand and you will be mentally prepared and can study accordingly.
Keep calm and carry on
Huizing says to follow some simple steps to make sure you stay calm and focused.
- Look at the number of questions without reading them and determine how much time you have for each.
- Read the question and rephrase it in your own words. Make notes if it’s allowed, as this will activate your knowledge. Predict an answer in your head and then identify the best response in the test. ‘Answer all the questions, guessing where necessary’, Huizing advises.
- Get to the core of the question. Some details are added just to distract or confuse you from the real question, so start by deleting the unnecessary information. Skip difficult questions and leave them for later: looking at it for five minutes will not solve it.
- Double check! Have you missed any questions or misunderstood them? Change your answer only if you remembered new relevant information. ‘The first answer you think of is usually the right one’, Huizing says.
Still need a bit of extra help preparing for your exams? The RUG offers study skills workshops and you can make an appointment with study trainers and psychologists like Huizing who can help you improve your skills.