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This guide is written with the explicit aim to help my students to do their best on exams in my computer science classes. At the same time most of the ideas are generic enough and can be useful in a wider context. Booklet contains additional information about "grey areas" (using/abusing breaks, prevention of burnout and fatigue, etc.)
Dr. Nikolai Bezroukov
When students took SAT the first time they usually have a limited experience with multiple choice questions and anticipate that a multiple choice exam is a simple matter of recognizing true statements. This is wrong. Multiple choice questions require fine distinctions between correct and nearly-correct statements. Often these distinctions require only memory and recognition, but involve the analysis and guesswork. These higher-order processes can help even when at first glance the content of a question is unrecognizable.
Try to anticipate the correct response before you are distracted by seeing the options provided. Then, uncover the responses.
|Try taking a few breaks during the exam by stopping for a moment, shutting your eyes, and taking some deep breaths. Periodically clearing your head in this way can help you stay fresh during the exam session. Remember, you get no points for being the first person to finish the exam, so don't feel like you have to race through all the items -- even two or three 30-second breaks can be very helpful.|
Erase the "?" at the end Change answers to previous questions as you progress. Often the second question that you encounter after the first provides additional information about the correct answer to the prev. question.
If you cannot come to a decision by reasoning, guess. Do not erase the "?", you may be able to do something wth them during the final review. There is no penalty for the wrong answers, and a guess is better than a blank. If you managed to eliminate all but two alternative you chances are close to 50%. Consider some of the following strategies to eliminate responses that are probably wrong.
- Make sure that you have filled the appropriate bubbles carefully in pencil!. if you fail to fill in bubbles completely or if you make stray marks, only the computer will notice, and you will be penalized. Erase any accidental marks completely.
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Now for specific advice:
- Answer the questions you are positive about, and that require little effort, first. This will serve to increase your confidence.
- Always answer all questions even if you must guess. There is no penalty for incorrect answers. Similarly, don't bother to show your computations or comments since there is no reward or partial credit given.
- Be careful when selecting answers with words such as "always," or "never." Although these are sometimes correct, be sure you consider the restrictive nature of such responses.
- On computational questions (including those requiring a journal entry answer), DO NOT look at the answers before solving. Simply cover up the suggested answers and solve the problem. This will alleviate the problem caused by answers that appear to be correct but are actually wrong.
- Read all of the answers. The CPA Exam often provides several correct answers to a question. Your task is to produce the MOST CORRECT answer; thus, you must carefully read all answers to ascertain the correct response.
- For questions that require intensive computations (e.g., reciprocal method of service cost allocation), make an educated guess and move on. You can always return to the question but don't waste a substantial amount of time that you could be "earning" easier points elsewhere.
- Treat each answer as a true/false statement, looking for 3 trues/1 falses and vice versa.
- If you are able to eliminate any obviously wrong answers, you've greatly improved your odds of obtaining the correct ones. Research shows that your "gut reaction" is usually correct. Never, ever, change your mind and go against this. Statistically speaking, you will lose.
- If you don't have a clue, select the longest answer. Test preparers agree that, in general, correct answers require more words to ensure that all possible circumstances are considered.
- Remember, the correct answer is always there. This means for computational questions, you might begin with the answer and "plug" your way backwards to obtain the correct answer.
- Eliminate all obviously incorrect answers immediately. For example, if required to indicate the impact of an entry on financial statement elements, eliminate any choices that reflect an increase in income, with a corresponding decrease in equity, and vice versa.
Remember, with a little practice and good test-taking strategy you can improve your score dramatically!
Got a question? Email the author at email@example.com.
Studying for a multiple choice exam requires a special method of preparation distinctly different from an essay exam. Multiple choice exams ask a student to recognize a correct answer among a set of options that include 3 or 4 wrong answers (called distractors ), rather than asking the student to produce a correct answer entirely from his/her own mind.
For many reasons, students commonly consider multiple choice exams easier than essay exams. Perhaps the most obvious reasons are that:
- The correct answer is guaranteed to be among the possible responses. A student can score points with a lucky guess.
- Many multiple choice exams tend to emphasize basic definitions or simple comparisons, rather than asking students to analyze new information or apply theories to new situations.
- Because multiple choice exams usually contain many more questions than essay exams, each question has a lower point value and thus offers less risk.
Despite these factors, however, multiple choice exams can actually be very difficult. Consider that:
- Because multiple choice exams contain many questions, they force students to be familiar with a much broader range of material than essay exams do.
- Multiple choice exams also usually expect students to have a greater familiarity with details such as specific dates, names, or vocabulary than most essay exams do. Students cannot easily "bluff" on a multiple choice exam.
- Finally, because it is much more difficult for a teacher to write good multiple choice questions than to design essay questions, students often face higher risks due to unintended ambiguity.
To prepare for a multiple choice exam, consider the following steps:
- Begin studying early.
Multiple choice exams tend to focus on details, and you cannot retain many details effectively in short-term memory. If you learn a little bit each day and allow plenty of time for repeated reviews, you will build a much more reliable long-term memory.
- Make sure that you identify and understand thoroughly everything that your instructor emphasized in class.
Pay particular attention to fundamental terms and concepts that describe important events or features, or that tie related ideas and observations together. These are the items that most commonly appear on multiple choice exams.
- As you study your class notes and your assigned readings, make lists and tables.
Concentrate on understanding multi-step processes, and on ideas, events, or objects that form natural sequences or groupings. Look for similarities and differences that might be used to distinguish correct choices from distractors on an exam.
If your textbook highlights new vocabulary or key definitions, be sure that you understand them. Sometimes new words and concepts are collected at the end of a chapter. Check to be sure that you have not left any out by mistake.
Do not simply memorize the book's definitions. Most instructors will rephrase things in their own words as they write exam questions, so you must be sure that you really know what the definitions mean.
- Brainstorm possible questions with several other students who are also taking the course.
- Practice on sample questions, if you have access to a study guide or old exams.
A study guide may emphasize different ideas or use a slightly different vocabulary than your instructor prefers.
Multiple Choice or Multiple Guess!?
The strategies that we have covered thus far should be helpful in preparing you with the necessary knowledge needed to succeed with multiple choice exams. For students who lack essential learning skills or who fail to apply the kinds of active strategies we have been discussing, multiple choice exams are extremely difficult. Some students have even gone so far as to label themselves incapable of writing multiple choice exams effectively. Some have even taken the step of changing out of a major area of study to avoid having to take exams in this format. In probably the majority of cases, these extreme responses are unnecessary; these students would have done better to examine the way they were preparing and adjusted their style of learning and studying to equip themselves better for these often difficult exams. If you're having difficulty with multiple choice exams, you will probably want to do what you can to make your situation better.
The reasons why these tests are so difficult have to do more with the structure of the exams than the level of difficulty of the material. Many students make the assumption that multiple choice exams are simple and do not require a rigorous approach to study. If you can understand not only how to prepare, but how to approach and analyze the structure of multiple choice questions, you will have a much clearer sense of how to take the guess work out of multiple choice exams. In terms of their structure, multiple choice exams have a few unsavoury characteristics: first, these tests typically have many questions to answer and the topics you studied are typically scrambled and shuffled; second, the ideas you learned about in class or in the text may be reworded in different ways: colloquially, technically, by example, or by analogy; third, very often the multiple choice test is not simple recognition of basic ideas but recognition of the answer to a reasoned problem. Your reasoning must make use of the learning from the course and may go beyond the material covered in class or require you to apply knowledge from the course. You may have to go beyond straight memorization to make an analogy or to solve a novel problem. You cannot just be familiar with the material; you must be able to write it down, talk about it, and analyze it
In-test Strategies for Multiple Choice
With all these characteristics, it is no wonder that multiple choice tests are both under-estimated by some students and revered by others. We begin with a series of in-test strategies and then apply these to a few example questions, highlighting the structure and purpose of each question. When appropriate, we mention additional preparation strategies that could be used to prepare for the questions:
PREVIEW THE EXAM. As you browse through, take note of those questions which seem easier (i.e., those questions you think you can answer) and perhaps plan to skip those which seem harder, setting time limits, and getting settled; keep to time divisions for questions as they are usually equally weighted; (see In-test Strategies, page 20.)
START WITH QUESTIONS YOU CAN ANSWER READILY. Don't waste time labouring over troublesome questions at the start. Be sure to get credit for items you know well.
RECYCLE THROUGH THE TEST. Now try the questions you could not do on the first attempt. Sometimes the answer will occur to you simply because you are more relaxed after having answered other questions. Sometimes, too, your answer to one question provides a clue to the answer of another.
SET GOALS FOR TIME AND PACE YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY. Allocate your time according to the relative worth of questions. Try to save a few minutes at the end for review and revision. Remember: your first answer may not always be your best answer. Change answers, but only if you have a good reason for doing so. For instance, changing an answer from, say, selection "b" simply because your response to the previous four questions was also "b" and you cannot believe that five questions in a row would have the same item as the correct response, is likely not a good reason; be flexible in your approach.
READ THE QUESTIONS CAREFULLY: twice if necessary. Avoid jumping to conclusions about what you think the question asks.
CIRCLE OR UNDERLINE KEY WORDS IN QUESTIONS. Multiple choice tests examine your ability to read carefully and thoughtfully as much as they test your ability to recall and reason. Watch for words like "all," "always," "never," "none," "few," "many," some," "sometimes." (see Descriptive Words, page 13.)
TRY TO RECALL A CONCEPT FROM MEMORY or think out the answer before looking at the options. Doing this successfully may help you "wade through" the alternatives and find a reasonable answer or choice.
CONSIDER THE COVER-UP STRATEGY, whereby you read the question and try to answer it by recall before looking at the alternative answers;
CONSIDER THE TRUE/FALSE LABEL STRATEGY whereby you label the alternative answers as true or false statements and then look for a pattern in the answers;
SOMETIMES ALTERNATIVES DIFFER BY ONLY ONE OR TWO WORDS or in the order of one or two terms. These can seem very confusing. It helps sometimes to read the stem of the question (that's the question part) with an alternative while covering up the others. By methodically thinking through the alternatives this way, you may be able to make more sense of the options by labelling them true or false and eliminating those that don't correctly complete the question.
USE THE HINT OF HIGHLY SIMILAR PAIRS -- this says that often the answer is imbedded in one of two very similar pairs and the "most correct" answer is often the one that correctly uses course terminology; consider the all or none of the above cues -- if two of the preceding alternatives are opposites then one of them and the all or none of the above choice is also wrong;
BE PREPARED TO CHANGE YOUR ANSWER if you can determine a clear reason why your first response is incorrect -- many students report difficulties arising from changes that are made on the basis of nervous feelings;
YOU MIGHT WANT TO TRY TO ANSWER ALL THE QUESTIONS FROM THE SAME SECTION OF THE COURSE to offset the mixing of questions inherent in the design of the test -- this demands care be taken that answer sheets are correctly completed and that all questions have been answered; consider guessing when there is no penalty for a wrong answer.
BE ALERT TO TERMINOLOGY WHICH LINKS the alternatives or questions to key areas of the course, lectures, or chapters of a course's materials -- this may help you narrow the field of possible choices and think through to the best answer.
BE WARY OF DESCRIPTIVE WORDS which are overly exclusive or overly inclusive. These absolute terms tend to portray things as right or wrong where this is often not the case. Words like always, never, completely, and only are absolutes. Relative words like often, usually, seem and may are often more accurate.
TRANSLATE DOUBLE NEGATIVE STATEMENTS into positive ones. Examples like "Not lacking" or "not none" become "having" and "some" and this can reduce confusion. Note that these are often partly in the stem and partly in the choices of a particular question.
IF YOU MUST GUESS, look for some of these possibilities: the style of an answer option is very different from all of the others - this may disqualify it; the grammar of the question stem is not in agreement with the grammar of an alternative; some alternative is not in the area or topic of the question, but comes from some other part of the course- this may disqualify it.
OVERALL, remember that you are looking for the best answer, not only a correct one, and not one which must be true all of the time, in all cases, and without exception.
A TEST TAKING SELF-ANALYSIS KEY FOR MULTIPLE CHOICE TESTS
If you don1t do well on multiple choice tests, it1s important to find out why. Read the following statements and note which apply to you. It is important to identify the problem area before you can work to improve your test-taking skills.
- Information Gap: I don't remember encountering this material at all or I glossed over it or did not have it in my notes.
- Retention Gap: I studied this but could not call it up from memory.
- Misinterpretation of Information: I incorrectly understood the information when I initially read the text or heard it in lecture.
- Synthesis Gap: I did not make connections between pieces of information.
- General Vocabulary Gap: I did not know the correct meaning or assumed an incorrect meaning of general vocabulary.
- Course Specific Vocab Gap: I did not know or assumed an imprecise meaning of a term.
- Inability to Decipher: I could not get past the grammatical structure of the question or response.
- Jumping to Conclusions: I did not fully consider all the responses.
- Rushed Response: I did not have time to consider the question carefully.
- Over/Under Generalization: I eliminated too much or did not eliminate enough.
- Misreading: I made decoding errors in reading the question or response.
- Miskeying: I knew the correct answer but copied the wrong response on the answer sheet.
- Memory Strategies Not Applied: I didn1t consciously apply a variety of memory strategies to transfer information into long-term memory.
- Test Answers Not Checked: I didn1t use extra test time to review my answers.
STRATEGIES FOR MULTIPLE CHOICE TESTS
- Narrow your choices down by eliminating obviously wrong answers which are almost identical.
- Try to decide what the answer to the question is before you read all of the choices, but: Be sure to read all answers before selecting one. Sometimes two answers will be similar and only one will be correct.
- Do not be afraid to change an answer if you feel strongly about it.
- Do not be discouraged if you cannot answer a question. Leave it and go on. You may find the answer or clues to the answer in subsequent questions.
- Beware of questions with "no", "not", and "none." These words easily change the meaning of questions.
- If you have to guess:
Reject answers that use specific determiners such as: everyone, always, never, etc.
Look for grammatical inconsistencies which may help eliminate wrong answers.
Choose the longest, most precise answer.
Choose the answer that is in the middle.
Choose answers which use qualifying terms such as: often, most, etc.
Choose the answer which first caught your eye.
All of these hints work best when used together. It is important to note that nothing will help you do better than studying for a test.
STRATEGIES FOR ESSAY TESTS
- Read all of the questions before beginning, making sure that you understand what the professor is asking. LOOK FOR KEY TERMS.
- Begin by answering the easiest question. This will lessen frustration and build confidence.
- Jot down ideas which immediately come to mind. Especially those which include specific vocabulary from the course.
- Make a simple outline of what you will write about.
- Be sure to keep track of time. *You should spend more time on questions which are worth more points.*
- Try to write as neatly as possible and leave some space for added ideas or corrections.
- Before turning your test in, read your answers a final time in order to check for grammatical errors and misspellings.
WORDS TO WATCH FOR IN ESSAY QUESTIONS
The following words are commonly found in essay test questions. Understanding them is essential to success on such questions. If you want to do well on essay tests, then study this page thoroughly. Know these words backward and forward. To heighten your awareness of them, underline the words when you see then in a test question.
Analyze: Break into separate parts and discuss, examine, or interpret each part. Explain: Make an idea clear. Show logically how a concept is developed. Give the reasons for an event. Compare: Examine two or more things. Identify similarities and differences. Illustrate: Give concrete examples. Explain clearly by using comparisons or examples. Contrast: Show differences. Set in opposition. Interpret: Comment upon, give examples, describe relationships. Explain the meaning. Describe, then evaluate. Criticize: Make judgements. Evaluate comparative worth. Criticism often involves analysis. Outline: Describe main ideas, characteristics, or events. (Does not necessarily mean "write a Roman numeral/letter outline.") Define: Give the meaning; usually a meaning specific to the course or subject. Determine the precise limits of the term to be defined. Explain the exact meaning. Definitions are usually short. Prove: Support with facts (especially facts presented in class or in the test.) Describe: Give a detailed account. Make a picture with words. List characteristics, qualities, and parts. Relate: Show the connections between ideas or events. Provide a larger context. Discuss: Consider and debate or argue the pros and cons of an issue. Write about and conflict. Compare and contrast. State: Explain precisely. Summarize: Give a brief, condensed account. Include conclusions. Avoid unnecessary details. Enumerate: List several ideas, aspects, events,things, qualities, reasons, etc. Trace: Show the order of events or progress of a subject or event. Evaluate: Give your opinion or cite the opinion of an expert. Include evidence to support the evaluation.
If any of these terms are still unclear to you, go to your unabridged dictionary. Thorough knowledge of these words helps you give the teacher what he/she is requesting.
DURING THE EXAM
- LISTEN ATTENTIVELY to everything the instructor says before and during the test.
- PREVIEW THE EXAM (this may take up to 10% of your exam time).
- Take note of those questions that seem easier or more difficult.
- Determine how much value is given to each question/section.
- SET GOALS FOR TIME AND PACE YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY
- Allocate your time according to the relative worth of questions.
- Save time at the end for review and revision (10% of your test time).
- READ THE DIRECTIONS AND QUESTIONS CAREFULLY – twice if necessary
- Avoid jumping to conclusions about what you THINK the question asks.
- You may be instructed to answer only some, not all of the questions.
- WRITE DOWN memory aids (formulas, equations, facts you might forget) in the margins.
- CIRCLE OR UNDERLINE KEY WORDS IN QUESTIONS
- ANSWER THE QUESTIONS IN A STRATEGIC ORDER
- Begin by answering the easy questions
- Next, answer the questions with the highest point value.
- Save the most difficult questions for last.
- RECYCLE THROUGH THE TEST – check all your answers
- Sometimes the answer will occur to you simply because you are more relaxed after having answered other questions.
- Sometimes your answer to one question provides a clue to the answer of another.
- CHANGE YOU ANSWER ONLY IF YOU CAN DETERMINE A CLEAR REASON WHY YOUR FIRST RESPONSE IS INCORRECT.
MULTIPLE CHOICE TESTS
- The reason why multiple-choice tests are so difficult has to do more with the structure of the exams than the level of difficulty of the material.
- Multiple-choice exams are not simple. You cannot just be familiar with the material; you must be able to write it down, talk about it, and analyze it.
- FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES FROM “General Test Taking Strategies”
- READ THE DIRECTIONS carefully and determine the answers to the following questions: Should you mark the ONE best correct answer OR ALL correct answers? Does the answer need to be true all of the time, in all cases and without exception?
- Will you be penalized for guessing? Will an incorrect answer cost you more points than a blank answer?
- READ THE COMPLETE QUESTION STEM, (the incomplete statement or open ended question).
- TRY TO RECALL A CONCEPT FROM MEMORY
- Cover all answer choices and predict your answer.
- BE SURE TO READ ALL CHOICES BEFORE SELECTING ONE. Sometimes two answers will be very similar.
- CIRCLE OR UNDERLINE KEY WORDS IN QUESTIONS
BE WARY OF DESCRIPTIVE WORDS
- Words like always, never, completely, and only are absolutes. These terms tend to portray things as right or wrong where this is often not the case.
- Relative words like often, usually, seem and may are often more accurate.
- CROSS-OUT the options you know are definitely wrong.
- If one choice is left, select that choice.
- If more than one choice is left, re-read the stem of the question with each alternative.
- ANSWER ALL QUESTIONS FROM THE SAME SECTION OF THE COURSE
- This can offset the mixing of questions in a test.
- BEWARE: If you do this, be sure that answer sheets are completed correctly and that you answer all questions.
- CONSIDER THE TRUE/FALSE LABEL STRATEGY
- Label the alternative answers as true or false statements.
- Eliminate the choices that do not correctly complete the question.
- HOW TO DECIDE ABOUT “ALL OF THE ABOVE” AND “NONE OF THE ABOVE”
- If two of the alternatives are opposites, the answer cannot be “all of the above”.
- If you know two of three of options are correct, “all of the above” is a strong possibility.
- If you’re not sure about a number answer, toss out the high and low and consider the middle range numbers.
- Use the following to cross off answer options:
- If the style of an answer option is very different from all of the others.
- If the grammar of the question stem is not in agreement with the grammar of an answer option.
- If an answer option is not in the area or topic of the question, but comes from some other part of the course.
- Check for the most inclusive option – the option that contains the most information.
- The “most correct” answer is often the one that correctly uses course terminology.
TRUE / FALSE TESTS
- FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES FROM “General Test Taking Strategies”
- When in doubt, guess TRUE. Most true/false tests contain more true answers than false answers. (You have more than 50% chance of being right.)
- Pay close attention to QUALIFIERS, NEGATIVES AND LONG STRINGS OF STATEMENTS.
- Absolute words like “no, never, none, always, every, entirely, only” restrict possibilities and usually imply FALSE statements. They imply a statement must be true 100% of the time.
- Qualified statements with words like “sometimes, often, frequently, ordinarily, generally” open up the possibilities of making accurate statements and usually indicate TRUE answers.
- Negatives are confusing.
- If the question contains negatives, like “no, not, cannot”:
- Circle the negative.
- Read the sentence without the negative word.
- Decide whether that sentence is true or false.
- If it is true, the opposite or negative is usually false.
- Watch for negative prefixes such as in, as in the word infrequently. (“I frequently eat a sandwich for lunch” is completely changed by saying “I infrequently eat a sandwich for lunch.”)
- Simplify statements that contain a double negative by eliminating both negatives. (“You cannot ride a bicycle if you don’t keep your balance,” can be simplified to, “You can ride a bicycle if you keep your balance.”)
- EVERY part of a true sentence must be true.
- Assume that an answer is True unless the statement can be proved False.
- If ANY one part of a true sentence is false, the whole sentence is false despite many other true statements.
- Read long sentences carefully and pay attention to each group of words set off by punctuation. Sentences with long strings of words are most likely – but not always – false statements.
- Questions that state a reason tend to be false (and they often contain the words reason, because, therefore).
SHORT ANSWER TESTS
- FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES FROM “General Test Taking Strategies”
- Read the statement and think about what is missing.
- Write an answer that logically fits.
- Write an answer that fits the blank line grammatically.
- If you can think of several answers for a blank or short answer question, try to get clarification from the instructor.
- A guess made with common sense could get you more test points than if you leave an answer blank. (Don’t be a smart aleck if you guess.)
- Use the length of the blank line as a clue to the length of the answer unless the length of the blank line is the same for every item on the test.
- Write your short answers in simple, telegraphic sentences. Packing as much information as you can is more important that literary style.
- Reread the statement with the answer to be sure it makes sense.
EXAMPLES OF IMPORTANT WORDS
Extreme Modifiers Often in False Statements
Modifiers Often Used in True Statements
Un- Untruthful means not truthful.
Non- Nonalcoholic means not alcoholic.
In- Indirect means not direct.
Im- Imperfect means not perfect.
Il- Illegal means not legal.
Ir- Irresponsible means not responsible.
Dis- Disagreeable means not agreeable.
Double negative Interpretation
Not untruthful truthful
Not nonalcoholic alcoholic
Not indirect direct
Not imperfect perfect
Not illegal legal
Not irresponsible responsible
Not disagreeable agreeable
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