ANALYZING MULTIPLE CHOICE EXAMS
Most multiple choice questions are of the incomplete-statement type. A partial statement, referred to as the stem, leads grammatically into four or five sentence endings, or options, listed directly under it. One of the options is the correct answer. The other incorrect options are called distractions or decoys.
Here is an example of a well-constructed multiple-choice question.
STEM 1. The most perfect wall of granite boulders surrounding some lakes in Iowa formed by
DECOYS: a. American Indians
b. Prehistoric men
c. Huge meteors
ANSWER: d. Thick ice
This incomplete-statement question exhibits good construction in the following ways:
1. All options are grammatically correct
2. The stem is long and the options are short
3. Extraneous material is excluded from the stem
4. The stem contains one central problem
5. Double negatives are not used
6. All options are plausible
7. The correct option is no longer or shorter than the others
8. Only one option is the correct or best answer
Before you even look at a question on a multiple choice test, you must read the directions carefully. Some say, "Mark the one best answer," whereas others may require that you "mark all correct answers". You will lose credit if you mark more than one answer in the first case, or if you miss a correct option in the second case. If the directions are not clear, then ask.
Begin each question by reading the stem all the way through. Then read the options all the way through. Don't rush to mark the first option that sounds good. In some questions, all options may be correct, and you have to choose the best one; you won't find it unless you read them all.
You should read all the stem and options, spend no more than an few seconds puzzling over the question. If it resists answering, cross out any options you have eliminated, mark the question so that you will be find it easily later, and move on the next question. But don't leave any question so fast that you do not give it the calm consideration it deserves. If you merely go through the motions, you're wasting time. The idea is to convert the easy questions into quick-getters and leave enough time to go back to the questions you have skipped.
When you have worked your way through the test, go back to the questions that you marked for reconsideration. This time, however, concentrate on eliminating options. The more distractions you can eliminate, the better you chance of finding the correct answer.
If you can sometimes eliminate all the distractions, then you will have isolated the correct answer. If you can eliminate only one or two of the options, then you should guess at the correct answer. In the long run you will come out ahead by doing so, even if some credit is subtracted for each incorrect answer.
Here are some additional hints that may be of help to you in eliminating detractors and choosing the correct answer.
APPLYING THE TRUE-FALSE TECHNIQUE
To use the true-false technique, you make a complete sentence from the stem and each option, in turn. An option that results in a false statement is eliminated as a distractions. One that results in a true statement is probably the correct answer. As an example, consider this multiple-choice question:
2. Because of its lack of lumber, Syria has many "beehive" homes built of
d. mud brick
To judge the correctness of the first option, you would complete the stem as follows: Because of its lack of lumber, Syria has many "beehive" homes built of metal. Because Syria is hot, dry and rather poor country, you would probably decide that this statement is false. Metal (and concrete and marble as well) are too expensive and not readily available to the vast majority of people The last option, mud brick, undoubtedly produced locally, would be inexpensive and available and would hold up in a country where rainfall is meager. (The correct answer is d)
STICKING TO THE SUBJECT MATTER OF THE EXAM
When a multiple-choice question includes options that you don't recognize or that seem out of place, don't get panicked into choosing one of them. The chances are great that the strange options are distractions. Here's an example:
3. Which of the following does not have satellites or moons?
You might reason as follows: "We've been studying planets and their rotation around the sun. I've heard of Cassiopeia, but we haven't studied it. I've never heard of Perseus. I bet both are decoys. So, I will cross them off. We did study Venus and Mars. they are planets but I don't rremember which one has satellites and which one doesn't. Well, at least I've boiled things down to a fifty-fifty chance. So, I'll just mark this question and come back to it later.
Later, when you return to the question, you might remember that Mars has a ring of satellites or moons around it. That would eliminate Mars, leaving Venus. You might still not remember whether Venus has satellites, but since that's the only option left, you would choose it.
WATCH OUT FOR NEGATIVES AND EXTREME WORDS
We discussed negatives and extreme words in relation to true-false questions, and our discussion applies here as well. Whenever you find negative words such as "not" or "except" in the stem or in the options, circle them so that they will stand out. Then make sure you take them into consideration when you choose your answer. Here's an example:
4. Which materials are (not) used in making saddles?
a. Linen, canvas, serge
b. wood and leather
c. rubber and cork
d. Iron and steel
(The answer is always d. The materials a. b, and c are all used in saddles.
Always circle 100 percent words such as never, no, none, best, worst, always, all and every; and always be suspicious of the options in which you find them. In fact, if you have to guess, first eliminate all the options that contain absolutes. Then choose your answer from the remaining options. As an example, see whether you can answer this question:
The author suggests that for the desert
a. The climate is unpredictable
b. Heat is always unbearable
c. Is totally devoid of rain
d. Earthquakes pose a constant danger
You should have circled "always" in b, "totally" in c, and "constant" in d to end up with a as the correct answer. You didn't even have to know what what subject the question is about.
FOOLISH OPTIONS ARE USUALLY INCORRECT
Test writers occasionally include a silly statement as an option. Most likely, they become tired and simply dash off foolish statements just to fill space. You should almost always view such statements as distractions worthy of being immediately crossed out. Here's an example:
6. The most important reason why the travel agents tested the Camel Caravan was to
a. Judge the safety aspects of the tip
b. Improve relations with the Arabs
c. Get a free vacation
d. Test the appeal of the Caravan for the tourists
The foolish option is c. The correct option is d. Notice that options a and b make true statements, but the word "most" in the stem calls for the option d.
THE OPTION "ALL OF THE ABOVE" IS USUALLY CORRECT
When all the reasonable candidates for options will make the statement true, test writers frequently use "all of the above" as an option. Doing so greatly simplifies the writing of such a question. Here's an example:
7. Until the first half of the second millennium b.c., an army laying siege to a city made use of
a. scaling ladders
b. siege ladders
c. archery fire
d. all of the above
(The correct option is d)
One way to confirm the choice" all of the above is to find two correct answers in the options. For example, suppose you were sure that ladders and towers were used, but you weren't sure about archery fire. Then, if only one answer were permitted, that answer would have to be d because d is the only option that includes a and b.
NUMBERS IN THE MIDDLE RANGE ARE USUALLY CORRECT
When all the options in a multiple-choice question are numbers, the answer is easy if you have memorized the correct answer. Otherwise, you'll probably have to do some guessing. If you have no other information to go on, your chances of guessing correctly are increased if you eliminate the highest and lowest numbers. For some reasons, test writers usually include at least one number lower than the correct answer and at least one number higher than the correct answer. This "rule" allows you to eliminate half of the options in the following example:
8. The "Great Pyramid" originally stood how many feet high?
You would eliminate 281 as the lowest number and 981 as the highest, leaving two middle-range numbers, 381 and 481. At this point you have a fifty-fifty chance of choosing correctly. Can you improve the odds? You could compare the two remaining options to something you know, such as a football field. Then, 381 feet is slightly greater than a football field, perhaps not so high for a pyramid. But 481 feet is over 1 1/2 times as high as a football field is long. That would really make a "Great Pyramid" (If you stuck with 481 feet, you would be correct).
CHECK FOR LOOK-ALIKE OPTIONS
Test makers occasionally include, in one question, two options that are alike except for one word. Such a pair seems to indicate where the test maker's interest was focused, so it is logical to assume that one of the pair is the correct answer. The other options should, of course, be read carefully; they should be eliminated in favor of the look-alikes only in a guessing situation. For example, consider the question:
9. The author considers himself an authority on
a. Touring the Middle East
b. Middle East rug dealers
c. Middle East rug bargains
d. Behavior patterns of tourists
Even if you had no inkling of the correct answer, you would be wise to eliminate a and d and choose from the similar pair b and c. (The correct option is b)
The test writer can keep you from using this technique by inserting two pairs of similar options. Then you would have to deal with four options:
10. The author considers himself an authority on
a. Behavior patterns of merchants
b. Middle East rug dealers
c. Middle East rug bargains
d. Behavior patterns of tourists
The correct answer is c.