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Multiple Choice Exams

Like it or not, multiple choice exams are a reality in university. It’s important to develop strong study habits by regularly reviewing the course material throughout the semester; however, keep in mind that there are some strategies that may help you ace a multiple choice exam. Below are some tips to consider when writing multiple choice exams:

Step 1: Cover the answers

After all, they are there to confuse you and tempt you to a hasty and erroneous decision.

Step 2: Read each question or stem carefully

It often takes more than one reading to understand the question. To help decode the question:

  • underline key words
  • put the question in your own words
  • name the concept from which the question is derived

Step 3: Try to answer the question in your head before looking at the choices

If you determine the answer before you look at the choices, you decrease the possibility of becoming confused.

Step 4: Uncover the answers one at a time

Use a systematic process of elimination by putting: * beside the answer if you think it is correct x if you feel it is not the right one ? if you are unsure

Step 5: If you are unsure, go with your hunch

Stay with your hunch unless something later in the exam leads you to a better answer. If you do not even have a hunch, then guess, unless you will be penalized (lose marks) for doing so.

Changing your first answer

Only change your first answer when you are sure of the correction. Sometimes there are questions that appear later on the exam paper which cue you to the answer for an earlier question.


  • Always guess if there is no penalty.
  • Don’t guess if you will have marks deducted for wrong answers.
  • Use hints from the questions you know to answer the questions you don’t know.

Tricks for Guessing:

  • If two answers are similar except for one or two words, choose one of these answers.
  • If two answers have similar sounding or looking words (e.g., intermediate- intermittent), choose one of these answers.
  • If the answer calls for a sentence completion, eliminate the answers that do not form grammatically correct sentences.
  • If two quantities are almost the same, choose one.
  • If answers cover a wide range (4.5, 66.7, 88.7 90.8), choose the one in the middle.
  • If none of the above techniques fit for you, close your eyes and guess.

(Ellis, David B. (2006), Becoming a Master Student. Fourth Canadian Edition ed. Rapid City, SD: College Survival.)

Other helpful hints:

  • Plan your time and pace yourself. If you know you have 90 minutes to write a 50 question exam, plan on spending one to two minutes per question.
  • Remember to identify key words such as “always”, “never”, “sometimes”, “none” and/or “all”.
  • Don’t just select a response because you remember learning the information in the course; it may be a “true” statement in its own right, but not the correct answer to the question.

Don’t dismiss an answer because it seems too obvious and simple. If you are well prepared, some of the exam questions may appear very straight forward.