Ben Franklin said, "In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."

Whether you're pursuing an on-campus or an online degree program, you might add one more item to the list.


True/false. Fill in the blank. Short answers. Essays. Each type of test requires a different approach or technique.

Saint Leo associate professor of accounting, Dr. Passard Dean, clearly remembers his first college multiple-choice exam for one reason: he failed it.

Growing up in Jamaica, where he earned the first of his six degrees, Dr. Dean was accustomed to writing essays and solving problems for final exams. The first multiple-choice exam he ever took was when he was 24. He had moved with his family to New York, and he was working on his degree in accounting and economics.

"Multiple-choice exams required an entirely different thought process than I was used to with essays," said Dr. Dean. "So I started learning about multiple-choice tests and accumulating ideas on how to approach them to help myself become a better multiple-choice test taker."

In later years as a college professor, Dr. Dean found that international students, in particular, experienced a similar challenge with multiple-choice exams. "Their struggle resonated with me, so I started sharing my tips."

Today, he shares his multiple choice test taking strategies with all of his students. He tells them there's no secret to success when it comes to multiple-choice exams. "It's all about technique. Learn the methodology – apply the technique – and you will increase your potential for success."

Multiple Choice Test Taking Strategies

  • Budget your time
  • Attempt to answer the questions in consecutive order
  • Ignore the answer choices
  • Read the question carefully to determine the precise requirement
  • Determine the correct answer before reading the answer choices
  • Read the answer choices carefully
  • Select the best answer
  • After you have attempted to answer all questions, go back and answer the questions that have question marks beside them

Dr. Dean's Multiple Choice Test Taking Strategies

Here is Dr. Dean's multiple-choice question answering technique for how to pass a multiple choice test.

Budget your time.

  • Divide the total minutes you are allocated to take the exam by the number of questions you are required to answer.
  • Remember to allocate time for problems if the exam contains both multiple-choice questions and problems.
  • Monitor your time to ensure you are not spending too much time on any one question.

Attempt to answer the questions in consecutive order.

  • Do not agonize over any one question. Stay within the budget for each question.
  • Mark any questions you are unsure of with a question sign to remind you to return to them later.
  • Sometimes later questions will assist you in answering previous questions.

Ignore the answer choices.

  • Do not allow the answer choices to affect your reading of the question.
  • Remember, if four answer choices are presented, three of them are incorrect. They are called distractors for good reason. Often, distractors are written to appear correct at first glance.

Read the question carefully to determine the precise requirement.

  • Focusing on what is required enables you to ignore extraneous information and to proceed directly to determining the correct answer.
  • Be especially careful to note when the requirement is an exception; e.g., "Which of the following is not a current asset?"
  • By adhering to these steps, you should know what is required and which facts are relevant.

Determine the correct answer before reading the answer choices.

  • Keep in mind, however, that some multiple-choice items are structured so that the answer cannot be determined from the question alone.

Read the answer choices carefully.

  • Even if answer (A) appears to be the correct choice, do not skip the remaining answer choices.  Answer (B), (C), or (D) may be even better.
  • Treat each answer choice as a true-false question as you analyze it.

Select the best answer.

  • If you are uncertain, guess intelligently.
  • For many of the multiple-choice questions, two answer choices can be eliminated with minimal effort. This can reduce the risk of random guessing and increase your chances for success.

After you have attempted to answer all questions, go back and answer the questions that have question marks beside them.

  • If you still do not know the answer for a question, make an educated guess.
  • Remember, your first guess is usually the most intuitive.
  • Answer all questions.

Prepare for Success

Regardless of what type of test you will be taking or in what subject, by far, the best test preparation advice is to stay on top of your studies and assignments from day one of a new term. Learning the material as you go, asking questions, and reviewing regularly throughout the course will help you avoid panic and cramming the night before the final exam.

That said, it's the night before your exam, and you've done all you can to prepare. Now what?

Remember the basics.

Don't stay up all night studying. Get a reasonable amount of sleep. Get up on time, even if you have to set two alarms to do so.

Eat a healthy breakfast, which is crucial to thinking clearly and staying focused. Include whole grains to help you stay full, protein to boost your energy, and water to hydrate your brain, increase your concentration, and prevent fatigue.

Breathe, stay positive and remember the strategies for how to pass a multiple choice test.

What test-taking strategies work for you?

Other posts you may be interested in reading:

Professor Helps Students Find Success With Online College Math

Finding The Study Space That's Right For You

Roadblocks To Student Success: 3 Tutoring Myths

Succeeding At College Math As An Adult Learner

Image Credit: rhinoneal on Flickr/Creative Commons