5 Rules (and One Secret Weapon) for Acing Multiple Choice Tests

When it comes to taking
multiple choice tests, there’s this common piece of advice that often gets thrown around. “When in doubt, always choose C.” Right? Or maybe for you it was
B ’cause this advice comes from everywhere. Maybe you heard it from
your dad or your teacher or you read it on the internet. I’m pretty sure that I
heard it from some kid in my eighth grade
history class named Jimmy, but as Abraham Lincoln once didn’t say, “Always independently
verify advice given to you “by eighth graders named Jimmy.” Truer words have never not been said. So today we are gonna go
over some more well-founded and useful advice that you
can use to make sure you ace that next multiple choice
test you got coming up in the future. And I’ve got five main strategies
to go through as well as one secret weapon of sorts,
so let’s just get started. First off, when those test
papers flutter down to your desk, don’t just start immediately
going through the questions one by one in a linear fashion. Instead, take a few minutes to
go through and skim the test and just get a general
overview of the questions. Now, as you’re doing
this, you can answer any of the questions that stand
out as really, really easy or that you’re really,
really confident in, but another thing you’re doing
by doing this whole little skim once over the test before
you actually start in earnest is you’re priming your brain
for some of the questions and details that are
on the test as a whole. And this can be really, really useful for a couple of different reasons. One, you’re priming your
brain to start thinking about some of the harder
questions and we’re gonna get to that in a minute, but
number two, sometimes multiple choice tests will have
questions that hold details and hints or sometimes
outright full answers to other questions on the test. For example, say you’re
taking a history test one day and you come across a question like this. Which American president’s
death caused Napoleon to order 10 days of mourning in France? Now, as you’re going over the
answers, you can eliminate one of them right off the
bat, but the other ones, Thomas Jefferson, John
Adams, George Washington, you don’t know which of the
three is the correct answer. So maybe you skip it,
you go on into the test and then later, you come
across a question like, true or false. Even though Thomas Jefferson
and John Adams were bitter political rivals during the
heyday of their careers, they eventually regained their friendship and kept it until both
of their deaths in 1826. Now that question just
established that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died in
1826 and say that you knew from some other source
that Napoleon himself had died in 1821. If you knew that, then that
question answers the previous question because both Thomas
Jefferson and John Adams are not possible answers,
therefore, it’s Washington. These kind of details and
questions aren’t always gonna crop up in your
tests, and in any case, you probably shouldn’t waste
a whole ton of your test time digging around for ’em because, you know, preparation is a much better strategy. You should hopefully come
into the test prepared to answer most the questions
in the first place, but it can be helpful
in certain occasions, so just prime your brain with a little bit of a preliminary pass
before you start in earnest. The second technique on my
list is what Barbara Oakley’s book A Mind for Numbers
calls the Hard Start, Jump to Easy technique. And this is a technique
where, basically, you jump into a difficult problem and
you spend a couple of minutes thinking really deeply
about it, but if you can’t get the answer to that
problem, you move on. Now this is something you’re
teachers have probably told you in the past, just
to save time on your tests, but there’s another benefit that they might not have told you about. If you spend some time
thinking about a hard problem, you’re engaging your brain’s focus mode. And I know this focus
and diffused dichotomy is something I talk about
a lot in these videos, but it’s really, really important. So while you’re using focus
mode, you are concentrating on the problem and you’re
using your conscious resources to try to solve it. But once you jump into
a different problem, your subconscious resources,
the more distributed parts of your brain, work on
that difficult problem in the background. And then when you go back to
the problem a little bit later, you probably have a better
chance of answering it. Oh, and my apologies to
Dr. Oakley, but we have got to get a better name than Hard Start, Jump to Easy technique. So I’m gonna go ahead and
recoin it the Tiny the Tiger technique ’cause it’s
like that one boss battle in Crash Warped where you spend
some time fighting the boss and then you switch over
to avoid these tigers and go back and forth from there. Tip number three is to make
sure that you read each question on your exam twice. Doing this is really, really
important because multiple choice questions can be
tricky and because they have a limited number of answers
and those answers are just written out for you, it can
be really tempting to simply skim over the question
very quickly and then go to the answer that looks most familiar. But professors can be pretty
sneaky when they’re writing these kinds of questions,
so you need to watch out for a few things that can trip you up. For example, some of the
questions on your exams might ask you which of the
following is not X, Y or Z. And it can be really easy to
fail to see that word, not, if you’re going through
really fast and just skimming the questions. Other questions might
actually have more than one correct answer and your
job there will be to find the answer that is most correct. And of course, in that vein,
there are also all sorts of questions that have all of
the above or none of the above as potential answers and I am
not too proud to admit that in several classes during my
college career, I took tests very quickly and failed to
see these types of answers on a few questions, which
I, of course, got wrong. Tip number four is a tactic
that I found personally useful all throughout high school
and college and it’s to double check your answers as you
get to the end of each page of your test instead of just waiting to do it all at the end. And the reason this is so
useful is that once you get to the end of a page on your
test, you probably only have five or 10 questions to go over
and because you have so few, you’re probably not gonna
rush or get intimidated by the number of questions
you have to check and that’s gonna decrease the
likelihood that you’ll skip over a dumb mistake or something
that just should glaringly stick out and that’s gonna
increase your scores. Now this is not a replacement
for giving your test a good once-over once you’ve finished it. And I definitely think you
should be budgeting time at the outset of the test
to do that, but by adding this technique into your
test-taking arsenal, you can increase your scores even more. Alright, let’s move on
to tip number five here. So if you come across a
question that you just can’t get the answer to, or
maybe you feel like the answer’s on the tip of your tongue, but
you just can’t quite get it, try to envision yourself in the room in which you learned that
piece of information. Maybe it was your classroom,
maybe it was your normal study spot, but either way,
science has shown that if you can envision the area where
you learned something, it activates something called
context-dependent memory. Basically, humans are more
able to remember things when they’re in the context
or location in which they learned them, but research
done in 1984 showed that if people simply envisioned the
place in which they learned something, they can sort of,
channel some of that ability even though they’re not
physically in that room. Now, if even that doesn’t work,
or maybe you’ve run across a question where you just
absolutely have no clue what the answer is, you’ve never seen
it before or you just can’t eliminate any of the
choices whatsoever, well, it’s time to break out that secret weapon. So, remember our friend Jimmy who gave us that old advice, you know,
“When in doubt, pick C?” Well, yeah, Jimmy was
wrong, but that’s okay, because instead of
following some dumb rule or just randomly guessing, you
can actually use statistics to exploit the way in which human beings typically write multiple choice tests. And that’s because, as the
author William Poundstone points out in his book
Rock Breaks Scissors, humans are pretty bad at creating actual random distributions of answers. During his research, Poundstone collected over a hundred multiple choice tests from all sorts of different sources. Schools, colleges, drivers exams, online quizzes, you name it, he got it. And that totaled over 2,400 questions. And what he learned from
doing statistical analysis on all those questions
was pretty surprising. First off, he did discover
biases for individual letter answers, but those
biases changed based on how many answers were
available on the question. For three answer questions,
you know, A, B, C, there was no bias. And for four answer questions,
the bias turned out to be B, not C, though it was a very
statistically small advantage. 28% versus the expected 25%. And then, when we go over
to five answer questions, you know, A through E, it was
actually E that was the most common answer and C was the
least commonly right answer. Those findings are just the
type of the iceberg though, and personally, I find
them far less interesting than all the other things he discovered. Including the fact that
with true/false questions, there’s a definite bias toward
true answers being correct. In his research, 56% of the time, true was the correct answer
and only 44% of the time was false the correct answer. Even more interesting and
potentially useful to you is the fact that a question
has a higher than average likelihood of not having the same answer as the question that came before it. So if you have one question
on a test where you knew the answer was C, you’re
definitely sure of that, and then you move on to the
next question and you’re stuck, or maybe you’ve narrowed
it down to C or D, then it’s likely that
D is the answer, not C. And perhaps most astoundingly,
for questions that had either an all of the above or none
of the above answer present, that answer was correct 52%
of the time, which means that if you’re stuck on
a question and you can’t narrow it down, that
answer’s your best bet. Now even though I had fun
calling these findings a “secret weapon” of sorts,
I really want to emphasize that you should only use
them when you’re completely at a loss and you have to
take a shot in the dark. You should use every other
technique in the book to narrow things down, to
give yourself some space, to use that Tiny the
Tiger technique because, at the end of the day, all you’re doing is exploiting the way
that people write tests. You’re not actually learning
anything and you’re not actually using your
mental faculties to work with the actual information
and content of the exam. Anyway, beyond all the tips in this video, the most important aspect to
your success on any multiple choice test or any kind of
test at all is preparation. And if you want to learn how
to prepare for your tests more effectively, I actually
just put together a resource on my website called The Ultimate Guide to Acing your Final Exams. And it collects everything
that I’ve ever made related to exams, so if you
haven’t seen all those videos or you’re looking for a
specific tip, you might wanna check it out and you can find
it on the card on the screen right now or in the
description down below. Beyond that, if you enjoyed this video, you can give it a like
to support this channel, it’s much appreciated, and
if you have additional tips on acing your multiple choice
tests that I didn’t talk about right here, I would love to hear from you down in the comments below. If you wanna subscribe to this
channel and get new videos on being a more effective
student every single week, click right there and you
can also click right there if you want to get a free copy of my book on earning better grades. Now the recommended video
this week is actually something related to this
because it’s about a technique called confidence tracking
that can help you even further increase your scores on
multiple choice tests, so check it out.

100 thoughts on “5 Rules (and One Secret Weapon) for Acing Multiple Choice Tests

  • Bonus tip!

    Some multiple choice questions are worded so that the answer will complete the question's sentence. In these cases, one trick that can potentially help you narrow down your options is to look for answers that make the sentence grammatically correct. Here's an example.

    Charles Lindbergh was an:
    A) Truck driver
    B) Aviator
    C) Surgeon
    D) Ninja

    Only "Aviator" makes the sentence grammatically correct. This won't always happen, but it's something to look for.

  • well- my algebra 2 test is tomorrow 🤷‍♀️ just hoping I pass- and the day after is my AP World History test— so I’ll come back again xD

  • Got my math finals tomorrow and Thursday I’m just gonna eliminate two dumb answers Ik are wrong and play eeny meeny miny moe

  • when you are intelligent but don’t try in test but your at 59% and you only got one more math test and a final.

  • If I have to remember the order of things (For example, the continents in order) I would make an acronym for the things and if there’s 2 with the first same letter, I would use the first two letters. Idk why but it works really good for me

  • What I used to do is go from the the back to the front. This worked. Or if I did not know the answer I skipped forward answered the ones I knew then went for the other that I did not have the problem on and then for some reason I as able to finish the test. I started calling it the" Faucet Technique". This is when you slowly turn on your brain you answer what you know and like a faucet you start turning the water on slowly to get a trickle then as you go on to the other questions you go faster and faster until your done. Whew

  • Umm do you know how to pass an ap computer science test. It has multiple coding section.sooo 😬yeah.

  • since I scored a couple points lower than the required amount for the state test in algebra last year I gotta retake it next week so I’m here trying to figure out how I’m gonna guess my way to success 😎

  • I took my first AP test today, the AP World Exam. It was really stressful because you had to pace yourself and then you had to make sure you weren’t doing it wrong and when you run out of ideas you panic. I’m pretty sure I failed and my parents will never let me hear the end of it.

  • I have a maths test tomorrow and i literally no nothing about it, so just gonna select D for every question and hope for the best.

  • i haven’t studied but i’m just hoping i don’t fail this test so i don’t have to take math I again in high school. :/

  • I also heard that usually the longest answer is correct and if one answer is different than the other it is extremely likely that it is that one.

  • I go through and complete the questions that I know the answer to 100%. For the ones I'm not sure of, I use the process of elimination. I read through all the answers and start eliminating them based on what I know about the question based on context. Some may be so obviously wrong you can eliminate them right away. Once you eliminate the incorrect ones, what you have left, must be the correct answer.

  • I would really appreciate if you provided the sources for this information. I'm writing a paper about something similar for university so it would be great to get some of these research papers

  • pro tip

    Draw a circle on either the test or the table and divivde it up equally for the amount of possible answers on a question. Say a quick Prayer. Then carefully spin your writing utensil in the middle of the circle, let god take the wheel and make the end of the pencil stop on the right answer. Works every time.

  • Omg! Thomas,I love that you used Crash Bandicoot ♥️🦋 and that I you very much for interesting videos:)

  • Days looking for a solution to my grades issue, was recommended to CYBERSPACEINTELLIGENCE(AT)GMAIL(DOT)COM OR HACKHAZARD on instagram by some YouTubers for a hack service to hack into my college system he saved me and surprised me with is hacking skills at an affordable cost .all thanks to him

  • Another tip I learned. If all of the above is barely used and used inconsistently it's probably that one

  • I'm taking an important exam tomorrow and I don't understand a word(it's another language). Imma guess all "C". I'll write my result when I get the exam back. Wish me luck and pray… please?

  • A level chemistry tomorrow …. 1/3 of the Paper 3 is multiple choice …. instead of actually revising chemistry I’m trying to figure out ways to guess multiple choice answers 😂

  • One trick I learned is that when there is a longer answer with a few shorter answers, the longer one is most likely to be the answer. It has honestly helped me so much. Especially my drivers practice tests 🙈

  • Subscribed but probably gonna take that back if I fail my regents today.

    Just kidding, you're actually really helpful! Glad I found your channel today! Now we'll just await results..

  • Amazing video. Great strategies and very creative. The all of the above/none of the above fact was quite a shocker. Thanks bro, this may help on my test Wednesday.

  • I had surgery on the day of this final for US history, I was told I didn’t have to take the test because of this, but earlier this week I found out I had to take it, and the next time I could take it was tomorrow. I need literally every advantage I can get.

  • I just clicked on this video to see if my strategies are in it which seems like it is.

    Edit: I read the questions multiple times sometimes.

  • I hate my circuits class. The prof only counts the homework 10% of the class grade and it takes forever to do. The term project is worth 20%, the rest of the grade comes from exams, the final exam is worth 50%!. And the prof makes it multiple choice with choices from a) to j). That’s right, 10 choices per question so you can’t just guess, that sucks

  • Multiple choice test? I was an Engineering student. Multiple choice tests were never given. Must be nice

  • Computerized multiple choice tests laff
    1. They are timed per question
    2. They do not let you go back once you answer (if you answered).
    3. No review, you finish early with time available, you cannot go back to re-check answers……sit/wait
    4. Often they provide 4 correct answers but they want you choose the more correct or best answer
    5. Odds answering a question on multiple you have a 25% head start, yet if timed the % of success dwindles.
    Professors did not need to take a test to attain their job (they wrote a dissertation topic and defended it). They did (if they did) take comps but that is a take home test and you get 7 days to complete it. Tests, if written to be deceptive (ETS certification tests, Princeton NJ) to make money as you have to take the test again………or pressure you into buy their study materials……….they suck……….and they suck again..

  • Awesome video. Previewing the answers /checking answers might be easier for someone who is taking a written exam. Will this work just as well for a computer exam?

  • My tip to a true or false question is that number 1 is always right. Because teachers exist to teach TRUE information to students

  • My teachers are very smart, they will never put questions that have clues to other questions in the same paper. They make us suffer a lot

  • whenever im stuck between 2 choices, i choose the less risky/ the one ill be less mad if i get wrong… it works tbh

  • I really like your presentations. Some of this content would work well on paper-based test, but computer-based timed test (i.e. 200 Questions with 4 hours to complete) an suggestions on how to prepare for that?

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