How to Study for Multiple-Choice and 5 Reasons to Love Multiple Choice Tests

August 28, 2012 by John Andrew Williams

When I was in high school, I got really, really good at taking multiple choice tests. Almost all the tests that we took were multiple choice. The school district bought a fancy machine that scored the tests on these little sheets with codes cut into the side, like the old-school punch cards for the first computers. It was funny to watch the teachers stand in line as they waited for the machine to spit out the graded tests.

How to study for Multiple-Choice

As millions of high school students get ready for finals and will have most of those finals graded in the form of multiple-choice, here are “5 Reasons to Love Multiple-Choice” and how to best study for multiple choice tests.

1) Thank Frederick J. Kelly, a professor from the University of Kansas, who invented the test. He invented the test because the government needed a way to quickly assess the masses of people for World War I. To his credit Kelly realized that multiple-choice tests were “a test of lower order thinking for the lower orders” and years later he repudiated the tests as ineffective. But the beast was already created, and Kelly was fired.

The important point: When studying for a multiple-choice test, don’t think too much. Think, and study, like a machine. When taking a multiple-choice test: Don’t over think it. Study for what the test was made for: testing the lowest denominator of knowledge.

2) Multiple-Choice is more like “Multiple-Guess”

One of the answers has to be right. In this case, multiple-choice is more like multiple-guess. After you go through the test and fill-in the circles for the answers you do know, add the number of times you answered A B C and D. For the answers that you don’t know, go back and give a preference to the letter or letters that have the lowest number of occurrences. Look at that option, does it make sense? For instance, if you have 15 A’s and only 3 C’s, then some of the remaining answers could be C.

3) Multiple-Choice is Fun

Multiple-choice tests are fun if you approach them with the right mind-set. Here’s a little taste to let you know what I mean:

What causes night and day?

A. The earth spins on its axis.

B. The earth moves around the sun.

C. Clouds block out the sun’s light.

D. The earth moves into and out of the sun’s shadow.

E. The sun goes around the earth.

(Source: P. M. Sadler, “Psychometric Models of Student Conceptions in Science,” Journal of Research in Science Teaching (1998. V. 35, N. 3, pp. 265-296).)

I have to admit my favorite answer is E on this one. How can taking this test not be fun? When studying and taking a multiple-choice test, please don’t miss out on the fun aspect. It’s just begging for a cartoon or a caption…

4) Part of the Game is to think like a High School Teacher

I really think this piece of advice is underplayed. Once you identify your teacher’s academic thinking style, you can recognize patterns in the material. Teachers think in terms of units and curricula. Each unit has a similar number of facts to learn, its own special twists and turns to analyze, and a similar way of being tested. Part of your studying process needs to be looking back on the tests you’ve taken already and determine how your teacher will test you.

5) Multiple-Choice must test known facts, and learning facts is easy.

Studying for known facts is easy. Really easy. It’s much harder to study for tests with no known answers: like writing an essay for the college application, putting together a viral video and hoping it gets 3o,000 views in a week, or starting a business. Enjoy it and take the easy road of academic success while it’s still lined with bubble sheets.

Having a positive perspective on multiple-choice tests and how to take them goes a long way to solving the challenge that most students have: they are mind-numbing and there is a temptation to over-think them. The best solution?

Read the material twice or three times. No need to take excessive notes, flashcards, or analyze the material. That stuff will come in college. For now, enjoy high school multiple-choice bliss.

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