Dan's Guide to Writing Multiple Choice Exams

The Exam
When you go into the exam room and open your exam, find the easiest questions first. When you read a question, try to think of the answer in your head before you look at the available choices. If you can come up with the answer, that's great! You just need to find the option that matches what you're thinking. This will prevent you from becoming confused by the available options.

If you get stuck on a question, SKIP IT! If the answer doesn't jump out at you right away, come back to it later. Don't waste precious time dwelling on it. The fact is that if you answer the questions you know, you will stimulate parts of your brain that are related concepts. When you come back to the harder questions, you will have a better chance at getting them once you're in 'the zone'.

Lastly, studies show that if you place the easier questions near the start of an exam, students will (on the whole) do better than if you mix the questions up. Since your prof might not be so kind as to structure the exam like this, you'll have to pick out the easy ones first and then come back to them later. Remember to put a big question mark beside the ones you don't know so they're easy to find later.

It's probably a good idea to fill out your 'scantron' sheet as you go along. This will help you pace yourself, and save you from having to do all that work at the end. Also, remember to circle your answers on your question sheet as well (and write your name on it). If you miss a bubble (God forbid) on the scantron sheet, it will ruin your whole day, and you won't be able to beg the prof to fix it if you didn't circle the answers on the sheet.

The Questions
On a multiple choice exam it's important to realize that there is usually a pattern for making up the available options.

For a given question there is usually 4 available choices. They can be broken down into the following types:
• The Correct Answer
• The exact opposite answer
• Almost the correct answer, but not quite
• Something that's way off
When you get into the exam and start answering the questions, decide which category each of the answers fits in. If it's not the right answer, but a little 'x' beside it so you don't think about it anymore.

I should have probably mentioned this above, but I forgot, so I'll say it now: If you're unsure of the answer when you read the questions, don't read the options. That will just confuse you and make you wonder if each option is right or not. You will probably make yourself think that 2 or more are correct if you do this.

If you didn't heed the warning and you do go ahead and read the answers, all is not lost. Apply the above pattern and see what you come up with. If you're still stuck (2 look right!) decide which is 'more right'. (Yes, I hate that term too.) If you can think of 10 reasons why A is right, but only 3 why B is right...stick with A.

The dreaded "Multiple-Multiple"
The 'multiple-multiple' style of question is a nice way for your prof to determine who was REALLY paying attention in class, and who just read this guide. (Don't worry, I'll try and save you.)

A 'multiple-multiple' question means that there are a handful of options (let's say 1, 2, 3, and 4) and the answers are something like:
• 1 and 2
• 1, 2, and 4
• 1, 2, 3 and 4
• None of the above
The first thing to realize here is that "None of the above" means, NONE OF THE ABOVE. It does NOT mean that 1, 2, 3, and 4 are all false, it just means that the combination of correct answers was not listed. If you're unsure of this in your exam, ask your prof or a TA...that's why they're there.

To answer a 'multiple-multiple' question, I've always found it most effective to go through the options, and cross off the ones I know to be false. That (hopefully) leaves only the correct options remaining. Then it's just a matter of finding out which letter corresponds to the options I have left. Make sense?

So, you didn't do so well?
Well, I tried! If you want to keep other people from taking courses with your ruthless professor, why not rate your prof?

By Dan Santoni
Last modified: Feb 16, 2004

Contents Copyright 2004 Dan Santoni