Since some of my juniors have begun the process of completing the Graduate Record Exam, I have had a number of folks vent about multiple choice format assessments. Yes, I know, they are a bummer. But they exist and are an easy way to assess knowledge on a recognition-memory basis. That said, you’ve likely had experience with these kinds of assessments before sitting through a standardized test. This examination format is pervasive in education and although selecting the “best choice” can be tricky when options are similar there is a strategy to taking MC exams.

Here are some strategies to help you succeed.

1.) Read the answers first.
Yes, before even reading the question stem, read the answers. You
will likely find an answer that doesn’t fit. This will help you in
eliminating the wrong answer if the stem is “which answer is NOT

2.) If you have time, reread the question to be sure you have not missed
any ‘tells’ regarding the answer. These are usually in the form of
underlined words, bolded words, or hypothetical examples.

3.) When you read the answers a second time, consider if there is a
distractor answer. Sometimes authors of exams run out of viable
options and just make up an answer. This may sound like a
legitimate answer but you’ve never heard it before. If you don’t
recognize the answer, this is a trap. Don’t select it.

4.) Avoid pattern-seeking behavior. I recall when I was in college
that there was a mythology about the number of answers that
could be repeated (e.g., one choice cannot occur more than 5 times
in a row). This is fiction, generally test authors don’t pay attention to
how many “a” answers occur in row. You could conceivably have
more than five “c” answers consecutively. So don’t look for patterns
in the answer items.

Best of luck and remember: study, study, study.


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