One of the most challenging tests you can take is a multiple choice test where you have to solve a problem to select the answer. These tests are challenging for two primary reasons:
- Often the possible answers are ones that you might have gotten if you did the problem incorrectly.
- You could have done the problem 90% correctly, but not gotten an answer that matched one of the possibilities.
Since there is no partial credit on these questions, grades tend to be much lower on multiple choice problem tests than on the more traditional show-your-work exams. Unfortunately these types of exams are becoming more common in problem classes because they are easier to grade.
Here are some ways you can take these tests and succeed:
- When you are working on the problem, review each step before you go to the next one. Does the result from each step look reasonable?
- When you are using a calculator, write down the answer of each step in the calculation before you move to the next calculation. A lot of silly mistakes are made when you do a series of calculations without looking at the answer to each step.
- Review the units from each step to be sure they match with the units of the answer you are seeking. You should write out the units from each step.
- Check signs on exponents to be sure they are correct. Also be sure to check positive and negative signs.
- Reduce your final answer to the lowest common form.
Now what happens if you don’t get an answer that is one of the possibilities?
- Check your answer against the possibilities. Which possibility is closest to your answer? Look at the differences. Then go back and look at your work to see if you could have made a mistake that would account for the difference.
- See if you can eliminate any of the possibilities.
- Units are incorrect
- Signs are not correct
- The answer isn’t in the lowest common form.
- Look for commonalities in the possibilities. Often one of two answers that are very close to each other could be the correct answer. See if you can think of which of these is more likely to be correct.
Finally, there is a strategy for taking these tests that can be helpful:
- Work the problems first that you are most confident of. This helps build momentum and ensures you get as many points as possible.
- Set a time limit on each problem. You don’t want to be rushed on other problems that are more likely to give you points. When you get to your time limit, select an answer. You can always come back to the problem, but you don’t want to lose points by not answering a question,
- If you are stumped for a solution approach, do this problem last. Then think of any problem solving approach that wasn’t covered by any of the other problems. Generally every major topic will be covered by one of the problems.
One final strategy should be mentioned. See if you can find old tests. If you can find these, take them under test conditions. You need practice in taking tests, just like you need practice in anything you hope to become good at doing..