5 Top Tips For Students Dealing With Short Answer or Multiple Choice Exams

5 Top Tips For Students Dealing With Short Answer or Multiple Choice Exams


No need to stress about your university exams – we're here to help! Last week we gave some advice on facing down essay exams, and in today's article we're looking at two other common university exam formats – short answer questions and multiple choice tests. These kind of exams require a different sort of preparation from essay or oral exams, so read on to see our tips on how to ace them.

1. Do focus on the details

Unlike essay exams, where we told you not to stress about the details but rather to focus on the big picture, for short essay or multiple choice tests the details are key. You need to be able to remember the facts which have been taught in the course over the semester, and to be able to explain these facts in a couple of sentences. Focus your revision on remembering key facts.

2. Use techniques to help you memorise information

If you're having trouble memorising facts and figures, first try writing out the information by hand several times. Often you'll find that just the act of copying the information down several times will be enough to make you remember it. But if that's not working, and you have a lot of tricky information such as dates or chemical formulae to remember, then try flashcards. Take a stack of postcard-sized piece of paper, and write down one fact to be remembered on each sheet. Then either use these cards to test yourself, or put them around your room or your house so that you see them regularly. Do this for a week and you should be able to remember the facts when it comes to your exam.

3. Don't overthink your answers

When it comes to multiple choice exams in particular, the questions can sometimes be written in a vague or unhelpful way. Sometimes you have to select the “one correct answer” from four possible answers, but arguably several of the answers might be true to some extent. It is tempting to select multiple answers, or to write information in the margins which explains your choice. However, this isn't a great idea! Multiple choice tests are often marked automatically by a computer, or sometimes by a student or worker without any experience in the field in question. So if you write extra information, it probably won't even get read, and you might loose marks for not answering the question “correctly”.

So how do you cope with a vague or ambiguous question? The best technique to not overthink your answer. If there is one answer that seems obvious, and the other answers are arguably somewhat true, then select the obvious answer and move on. Unless the question says otherwise, always choose one and only one answer in a multiple choice test. Try to imagine what the person who wrote the question is expecting the answer to be, and give that answer.

4. Do plan your time

You might think that as multiple choice or short questions are quick to answer, that you don't need to plan your time in such an exam, but that would be a mistake. Sure, the actual writing of the answers can be done very quickly, but you still need time to sit and think about each question before you answer it.

When you first see the exam, take time to quickly skim over it. Count how many questions there are, and how much time you have. Divide your time by the number of questions to see roughly how long you should spend on each question. Also, don't forget to leave 5 to 10 minutes of time at the end to give your work a final check.

5. Skip over questions which are giving you problems

If there's a question which you don't understand or don't know the answer too, feel free to skip over it and then come back to it later. If you don't immediately know the answer, that's okay, no need to panic! Sometimes moving on to other questions will help to jog your memory, or give you context which will help you to answer the question that you were stuck on. You don't want to waste a lot of time on one question, so keep going and then come back to the questions you were struggling with at the end.

Good luck with your exams!

If you're after more tips for students then see our other articles here:

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