Instructors are not out to trick you, but multiple choice tests can sometimes feel that way. Multiple choice tests are designed to make sure you know the information, and to do so, these tests often include more than just recognition, vocabulary, and knowledge-level questions. These tests often require you to compute, to apply concepts to new situations, and to think critically about what you've learned in the course. You have to know the material backwards and forwards, and when you get to the test, you may see unfamiliar material.

One your first pass through the test, don't guess on questions.  Answer the questions you know, and mark the ones you don't know or are unsure of so that you can revisit them.  If, on a second visit to the question, you’re still unsure of the answer, try some problem-solving strategies first:

  • Critically read the question. Underline key concept words and absolute words like "never," "all," and "always."
  • Try to answer the question without looking at the answers.  Seeing if you already know or can calculate the answer without seeing choices can help you reduce confusion over similar answers.
  • Read and consider all of the answers. You need to select the BEST answer, even though there may be more than one good answer (Van Blerkom, 2010).  Try to select the answer that is more true than the other answers.  
  • Narrow down distracting answers.  When unsure of an answer, eliminate answers you know are incorrect so that you are choosing from a shorter list of possible answers.
  • Look for clues in other questions.  At times, tests include clues or bits of information that jog your memory.  Use these clues in other questions to help you answer the question you are unsure of.

If you still have no idea what the answer to the question is, you can try some strategic guessing. Please note these strategies are not meant to be used if you already know what the answer is or if you can make an educated guess!

  • Try to spot decoys or distractors. Rule out any answers that don't make sense given common sense or the scope of course content.  
  • Beware of the “all of the above” answer. If one possible answer doesn’t apply, don’t choose “all of the above;" however, if 2 or more answers are correct, chances are that "all of the above" is correct.
  • Consider the length of the answers. Often times the correct choice is the longer one that includes the most information.
  • Beware of two similar answers. Test-makers may use two similar choices to confuse you. If you’re going to guess, pick one of the two.
  • Take a guess.  Instructors often select “b” or “c”for the correct answers (Linn & Gronlund, 1995 in Cuseo, Fecas & Thompson, 2007).
  • Answer every question. Even if you are guessing, be sure to choose an answer, especially if you have marked questions to return to after completing the ones you were certain of.


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