How to Help Your Child Prepare for Multiple Choice Exams – 6 Test-Taking Tips from a Principal’s Perspective

By Principal Judy, Intake Coordinator at Teachers on Call

Posted in Featured, Local, Parent Education Resources, Tips & Advice

How to Help Your Child Prepare for Multiple Choice Exams – 6 Test-Taking Tips from a Principal’s Perspective

Let’s be honest – tests and exams are scary for everyone!  At Teachers on Call, our in-person and online tutoring team believe this fear can be conquered by equipping students with the necessary tools to be prepared and successful. One of the most common formats that is used on school and standardized tests include multiple choice questions. Whether a student is preparing for elementary level tests, high-school exams, math contests, secondary school admission tests (SSAT), provincial standardized assessments or simply post secondary education, developing multiple choice test-taking strategies is an important part of the study repertoire. In this blog, our very own Principal Judy breaks this down further and provides 6 tips on how to better prepare students for multiple choice tests and exams to reduce anxiety in the process.

        While most adults are familiar with multiple choice tests, teaching students how to tackle them is another story. At Teachers on Call, we often hear from parents who are looking for our in-person and online tutors to help their child with strategies and techniques (in addition to the subject content), as multiple selection questions are part of everyday school life. They are also a skill which students need to develop and master to be successful at all stages of their academic careers.  This starts at a young age as elementary students will encounter them on school tests and provincial EQAO assessments for primary and junior divisions, as well as throughout high school exams and the grade 9 EQAO mathematics assessments and Ontario Secondary School Literary Test (OSSLT). Students will continue to be exposed to this format throughout college, university as well as on standardized exams that are an admissions requirement for specialized and graduate level degree programs.

        Multiple select questions can range from simple recall to complex application.  While there are provided answers (choose a, b, c, d or e), multiple choice tests and exams can be overwhelming for students.  Not to fret, this blog will give you some practical advice on how to better prepare elementary and secondary students of all ages for tests or exams that include (or are completely) multiple choice questions.  Here are 6 tips and tricks to get you started!

        Tip #1 - Study!

        This may seem obvious, but there is no better preparation for any test or exam than to study.  Study early and study often.  Do not leave all your studying to the last minute.

        Studying for a multiple choice exam is really no different from studying for any other examination.  Review the course outline, manage your study time, ask your teacher for an exam study guide.  See my blog on developing study skills to give you some good suggestions. 

        The two tips for multiple choice exams that are different:  make sure you completely understand the concepts so you can apply the knowledge (okay, that really applies to all exams!) and practice using multiple choice questions.  For example, get a study group together and test each other using multiple choice formatted questions.  Look for old exams and use those questions to test each other.  Ask your teacher for sample multiple choice questions.  Go online and look for sample tests with multiple choice questions (e.g., EQAO, SSAT official websites).

        Tip #2 – Read the instructions.

        Again, this may seem obvious, but when you sit down to the test or exam, start by reading the instructions carefully.  In some cases, the exam will have different sections and could include true/false, multiple choice, short answer and/or essay answers.  Reading the overview and instructions can help you figure out how much time to devote to each section.  The usual time allotment to answer a multiple choice question is one minute. 

        Also, take the time to write down reminders to yourself of key concepts you want to remember for the exam – and don’t forget to put your name on all pieces of paper (e.g. exam paper, scantron cards).

        Another component of the instructions may be whether or not there are deductions for incorrect answers.  This is a tricky one – if you guess incorrectly, you may be penalized.  That said, this is now a rare occurrence, so if there is no reference to deductions for incorrect answers in the instructions, it’s really important that you answer all the questions.  Even if you are not sure (after trying the tips and tricks mentioned), choose the best answer.  You cannot get a mark for a blank answer!

        Tip #3 – Read the question.

        Another obvious tip, but it is worth repeating.  Take the time to read each multiple choice question or statement carefully.  Identify the important words and key terms or concepts. 

        Now, try to think of the answer before you look at the choices.  If your pre-chosen answer is in the choices – choose it and move on.

        Be aware of negative or double negative statements.  They are tricky to answer and require you to decipher the question before you can decide on the correct answer.

        Tip #4 – But I don’t know the answer…Stay calm!

        If the answer does not come to you when you read the question, you only have one choice – stay calm!! 

        Cross out any answers you know are incorrect.  Some students like to reveal the answers one at a time and put a √ (if they think it might be correct), an X (if they know it is not correct) or a ? (if they aren’t sure).

        Then you have a choice.  You can either choose from the remaining answers (√ or ?) or leave it and come back to it later. 

        Hint:  there’s no right way to do this – you have to do what’s right for you, but don’t waste a lot of time debating on one question that is worth one mark and then running out of time.

        When you choose the answer you think is correct, re-read the question and your chosen answer to double check.  Does it make sense when you read it that way?  If not, try reading the question with the other options you have left and see if they make more sense.

        Remember – if any answer is only partially correct – it’s wrong!  The correct response to a multiple choice question will answer the question completely.

        Also, remember not to leave any question unanswered at the end of the test/exam (as long as there are no deductions for incorrect answers!).  A guess might be correct, which is better than a question not being answered at all.

        Tip #5 – Watch the clock.

        Of course, this tip does not just apply to multiple choice exams.  You should always try to budget your time.  The trick with multiple choice questions is to stay calm and stay focused.  Remember to read each and every question carefully. 

        Many students find an easy way to stay on track with their time is to skip any questions they cannot answer right away and come back to it (but remember, as I said earlier, the choice is up to you – the real key is not to waste time).

        Tip #6 – Get Expert Help - Teachers on Call online and in-person tutors help with more than curriculum.

        Teachers on Call tutors are Ontario College of Teachers certified teachers who are very comfortable with writing and answering multiple choice questions.  Your child’s tutor, whether offering in-person or online support, can help by providing academic coaching for multiple choice tests and exams, in addition to supporting subject specific curriculum. They can also provide your child with practice questions and/or tests to help hone skills to ultimately develop the strategies and techniques needed to be successful with multiple choice assessments.

        When you are speaking with your intake coordinator for our online or in-person tutoring service, simply identify multiple choice questions as an additional area for which you would like support, and they can make sure the in-person or online tutor is aware you want targeting tutoring in this area. 

        That said, it is much more useful for you to practice this skill throughout the semester with your tutor, instead of thinking you can “cram” understanding multiple choice into the last few weeks of the school term (which works about as well as cramming for a final exam!).

        Fun Facts

        It used to be believed that your first answer was the right answer.  There have been studies which have disproven this belief.  Instead, try to make sure you leave time to review your answers (especially ones you are uncertain about).  Oftentimes, you will see information in other questions, the rest of the exam, or as you work through different questions, that will help you better answer the question the second time around.

        Post secondary institutions use a lot of multiple choice exams (in comparison to high school), so practicing these skills now will not only help students do better on high school exams but will also better prepare them for college and university level exams. Students will also encounter this format on standardized admissions tests such as the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), Law School Admission Test (LSAT), Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and Dental Aptitude Test (DAT), just to name a few competitive programs.

        Taking multiple choice tests and exams is a skill.  As with any other skill, the more you prepare and practice, they better you become at the skill.  Think of multiple choice test taking as you would riding a bicycle.  No one expects you to ride perfectly the first time you get on a bicycle, but with practice and perseverance, you become a great bicycle rider.  Do the same with multiple choice.  Prepare, practice and persevere until you become a great multiple choice test taker!

        We hope you find this blog helpful, and as always, feel free to reach out to the Teachers on Call team with any further questions.

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