Mastering the Art of Multiple-Choice: Strategies for Exam Prep


When I look back on my time preparing to write my licensing exams, I remember how consumed I was about knowing as much of the study materials as I could and having all them organized. I created my index, highlighted all the things I thought were important, and put sticky notes throughout my resources so I could find information quickly. I worked tirelessly at my self-study and preparation.  

With all this work put into my prep, I was confident that I would succeed on the licensing exams-but this turned out to be only part of what I needed. At the time, what I didn't appreciate was that I needed to prepare to write timed, multiple-choice examinations. For most, if not all of us, preparing for these exams is entirely new and can prove a significant challenge.

Multiple-choice exams can be daunting. It can be challenging to know how to approach the exam and select the right answers. However, you can improve your success with a few tips and tricks. Here are my top five tips on how to approach multiple-choice exams: 


Read the Questions Carefully 

Take your time to read each question closely and pay attention to any key phrases or words that could provide you with important clues. Make sure you understand what is being asked before you choose your answer. Focus on the language used in the question and look for words that will greatly influence the answer, such as “may” or “shall”. Words like these have very specific meanings and can direct your thinking when trying to find the correct answer. Some questions may have multiple facts or aspects to them, and missing a crucial element can result in selecting the incorrect answer. 


Use the Process of Elimination 

The process of elimination can help you remove options that are obviously incorrect and increase your ability to select the best answer. After carefully reading the question, you should be able to easily, and quickly, identify answers that are clearly wrong and remove them from your options. For example, if you identify an answer that is significantly different from the others and/or relies on information not provided in the question, you can probably eliminate it right away. This helps narrow down the viable options. The more you can eliminate, the greater your odds are at selecting the best answer. If you are still unable to identify the best answer and must move on, you’ve significantly increased your chances of getter the answer correct even if you have to guess.  


Use Context Clues 

Look for context clues in the questions and answer options to help you determine the correct answer. Sometimes the answer can be inferred from the information provided in the question. For example, if the question asks about the legality of a particular action, the answer is likely to be in the law and not just an ethical consideration. This leads you to look for answers that address law, allowing you to eliminate answers that respond to issues of procedure or professionalism. 

Manage your Time 

Time management is critical to your success. It is surprisingly easy to get buried in questions, looking through your materials for information on something you don’t remember so you can answer a tough question. Without realizing it, you've spent four or five minutes on a single question. Do that a couple of times and you are suddenly ten or fifteen minutes behind. Take too long reading the questions and answers, and you can fall even further behind and, before you know it, the proctors are announcing that time is almost up and you have to start wildly filling in answers to questions that you haven't gotten to. 

It is extremely important to keep an eye on the time and on your pace, so you can have the time to properly address each question. Here are suggestions to help you manage this effectively: 

  • Know how much time you have. Divide the total time by the number of questions on the exam to figure out how much time you can spend on each question. You can create a time sheet setting out the question numbers in relation to the time you should be taking and use this as a quick reference during the exam. It will allow you to identify when you are falling behind and get back on pace. 

  • Be aware of how much time you are taking on a question. Do not take too much time. Sometimes this just comes down to a gut feeling that you are spending unnecessary time digging through your materials or trying to understand a question. When this happens, flag the question and move on to the next. You can come back to any questions you flag after you complete the rest of the questions. 

  • Some questions will be easier for you than others. Answer these questions as quickly as possible and move on. Do not spend unnecessary time double-checking your answer. Trust yourself. The time you save on these questions will help you get back on track or give you extra time for later in the exam if you get bogged down on more challenging questions. 

  • Stay calm and focused: do not let anxiety or stress affect your performance. You can control your stress by having confidence in your knowledge and preparation. Anxiety and stress can also be controlled through breathing and taking a few moments to relax. Being stressed and feeling out of control will be detrimental to your ability to effectively answer your questions and manage your time. Before the exam, practice techniques that will calm you down, relieve stress, and lower anxiety in the moment. 


Use Practice Exams 

Finally, practice exams are not just for testing your knowledge. Use practice exams to get comfortable with all the different aspects of a multiple-choice exam, become familiar with your materials and where to find things efficiently, and practice your time management. Multiple-choice exams can be challenging, but with practice you can greatly improve your chances of success. Employing a strategy by using some or all of the tips and techniques above can make a great difference. 

Written by: Darren Smith