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Student Success Tips: How To Ace A Multiple-Choice Test


The end of the term is fast-approaching, and that means it’s almost final exam time. If you’re presented with a multiple-choice test, here’s a technique to help you be successful.

How to Ace a Multiple Choice TestBen Franklin said, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Whether you’re pursuing an on-campus or an online degree program, you might add one more item to the list.


True/false. Fill in the blank. Short answers. Essays. Each type of test requires a different approach or technique.

Saint Leo associate professor of accounting, Dr. Passard Dean, clearly remembers his first college multiple-choice exam for one reason: he failed it.

Growing up in Jamaica, where he earned the first of his six degrees, Dr. Dean was accustomed to writing essays and solving problems for final exams. The first multiple-choice exam he ever took was when he was 24. He had moved with his family to New York, and he was working on his degree in accounting and economics.

“Multiple-choice exams required an entirely different thought process than I was used to with essays,” said Dr. Dean. “So I started learning about multiple-choice tests and accumulating ideas on how to approach them to help myself become a better multiple-choice test taker.”

In later years as a college professor, Dr. Dean found that international students, in particular, experienced a similar challenge with multiple-choice exams. “Their struggle resonated with me, so I started sharing my tips.”

Today, he shares his tips with all of his students. He tells them there’s no secret to success when it comes to multiple-choice exams. “It’s all about technique. Learn the methodology – apply the technique – and you will increase your potential for success.”

Dr. Dean’s multiple-choice test strategy.

Here is Dr. Dean’s multiple-choice question answering technique.

Budget your time.

  • Divide the total minutes you are allocated to take the exam by the number of questions you are required to answer. 
  • Remember to allocate time for problems if the exam contains both multiple-choice questions and problems.
  • Monitor your time to ensure you are not spending too much time on any one question.

Attempt to answer the questions in consecutive order.

  • Do not agonize over any one question. Stay within the budget for each question.
  • Mark any questions you are unsure of with a question sign to remind you to return to them later.
  • Sometimes later questions will assist you in answering previous questions.

Ignore the answer choices.

  • Do not allow the answer choices to affect your reading of the question.
  • Remember, if four answer choices are presented, three of them are incorrect. They are called distractors for good reason.  Often, distractors are written to appear correct at first glance.

Read the question carefully to determine the precise requirement.

  • Focusing on what is required enables you to ignore extraneous information and to proceed directly to determining the correct answer.
  • Be especially careful to note when the requirement is an exception; e.g., “Which of the following is not a current asset?”
  • By adhering to these steps, you should know what is required and which facts are relevant.

Determine the correct answer before reading the answer choices.

  • Keep in mind, however, that some multiple-choice items are structured so that the answer cannot be determined from the question alone.

Read the answer choices carefully.

  • Even if answer (A) appears to be the correct choice, do not skip the remaining answer choices.  Answer (B), (C), or (D) may be even better.
  • Treat each answer choice as a true-false question as you analyze it.

Select the best answer.

  • If you are uncertain, guess intelligently.
  • For many of the multiple-choice questions, two answer choices can be eliminated with minimal effort. This can reduce the risk of random guessing and increase your chances for success.

After you have attempted to answer all questions, go back and answer the questions that have question marks beside them.

    • If you still do not know the answer for a question, make an educated guess.
    • Remember, your first guess is usually the most intuitive.
    • Answer all questions.

Prepare for success.

Regardless of what type of test you will be taking or in what subject, by far, the best test preparation advice is to stay on top of your studies and assignments from day one of a new term. Learning the material as you go, asking questions, and reviewing regularly throughout the course will help you avoid panic and cramming the night before the final exam.

That said, it’s the night before your exam, and you’ve done all you can to prepare. Now what?

Remember the basics.

Don’t stay up all night studying. Get a reasonable amount of sleep. Get up on time, even if you have to set two alarms to do so.

Eat a healthy breakfast, which is crucial to thinking clearly and staying focused. Include whole grains to help you stay full, protein to boost your energy, and water to hydrate your brain, increase your concentration, and prevent fatigue.

Breathe and stay positive.

What test-taking strategies work for you?

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Wonderful tips! Thank you for writing this Mary Beth and thank you Dr. Dean for sharing them!
Posted @ Thursday, April 11, 2013 10:02 AM by Zulie
Dr. Dean was excited to share his tips with as many students as possible, Zulie. Saint Leo faculty -- such as Dr. Dean -- are passionate about doing whatever they can to help students succeed!
Posted @ Thursday, April 11, 2013 10:33 AM by Mary Beth Erskine
Great Post! I have always tried to make flashcards when I had a test on the horizon. At first I thought I may be wasting valuable study time writing out the flashcards, but found that the process of re-writing my notes onto a flashcard and compartmentalizing my thoughts really helped me to remember!
Posted @ Thursday, April 11, 2013 1:55 PM by Erin
That's another good tip! Thanks, Erin.
Posted @ Thursday, April 11, 2013 1:57 PM by Mary Beth Erskine
Thank you!!! This helps a lot!
Posted @ Tuesday, February 04, 2014 7:11 PM by Taja
The tips you gave were spot on! I am in the Air Force and it truly helped with a very important SNCO test! Again thank you so much!
Posted @ Thursday, June 26, 2014 9:04 PM by Shaun H.
That's great to hear, Shaun! Thanks for letting us know. Good luck to you and thank you for your service.
Posted @ Friday, June 27, 2014 5:27 AM by Mary Beth Erskine
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