Multiple Choice Questions

Each question may cover a single concept, but a bank of questions can cover many concepts. Multiple choice questions are designed to test recall of facts and/or understanding. These types of questions are not simple or necessarily easy to answer.

The Format of Multiple Choice Questions

A multiple choice question can be in the form of a statement or question.

  • Analyse the question very carefully into its key words as these give you clues to the correct answer. Take care with words which are qualifiers eg 'not', 'only', 'today' as they place limitations on the situation or problem.

A multiple choice question can have as few as 3 possible alternative answers but it usually has 4 or 5 alternatives made up of the following types:

  • 1 or more incorrect answers. These answers are used to 'weed out' students who have not put in the work.  They are obviously wrong to the well-prepared student;
  • 1 or more 'distracters'. These are answers that appear correct to an under-prepared student, but not to one who has studied well; and
  • at least 2 correct answers. One of these is a more accurate or fuller answer .

Practice example: Identify the best answer to this question.

Multiple-choice questions usually:

  1. test recognition of facts
  2. are easy to study for as the answers are given
  3. require the student to pick the best answer out of five possible answers
  4. cover a great deal of material in a single exam
  5. are easy for the examiner to set and easy to mark

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you identify the qualifier(s) in the question?
  • Can you identify the incorrect answer that unprepared students would consider?
  • Can you identify the partially correct answers that an under-prepared student may consider?
  • Can you identify the correct answer?

Your answers should be:

  • the qualifiers are 'one', 'best' and 'usually';
  • the incorrect answer is (3) as multiple choice questions can have 3, 4 or 5 alternative answers;
  • (1) and (2) are partially correct answers , as (1) is incomplete, (3) is correct in the first half of the statement and false in the second; and 
  • (4) is the only fully correct answer.

How to Prepare for a Multiple-choice Exam

  • Study and revise material at least twice before the exam.
  • Make summaries, diagrams of the material.
  • Practise past multiple-choice exams.
  • Make up some of your own according to the format.

Also see exam preparation

How to Answer Multiple-choice Questions

In general:

  • Identify the key words;
  • Underline or highlight the qualifiers;
  • Identify which answers are definitely not correct;
  • Identify which answers are correct;
  • Identify which of the correct answers is the best one;
  • Remember that answers involving a selection of the available answers, eg 1) and 2), or 'All of the above', have a good chance of being correct, but are not invariably the best answer; and 
  • Make a rough copy of your answers before marking the CMA sheet for submission.

In addition, in exams:

  • Calculate the time allowed for answering the multiple-choice section of the exam;
  • Do not exceed this time; and 
  • If you use the wrong boxes or make a mistake, ask the exam supervisor for help.

Proven Technique for Multiple Choice Questions

The following technique for answering multiple-choice questions under exam conditions has been trialed and proven to optimise student scores with over 300 university students (Elms 1996).

You need to work through the bank of questions three times.

  • First time through - read all questions and answer those you are confident about; place a tick beside these and do not look at them again; place a '?' beside those you are not quite sure of; and place an ' X' beside those  you don't know.
  • Second time through - work through only those questions with a '?' beside them; you may find that answering the questions you are sure of first has triggered your memory on these but do not spend too much time on any one question.
  • Third time through - work through those questions with an  'X' beside them; do not spend too much time on any one question; if you still do not know the answers, and there is no penalty for wrong answers, take an 'educated guess'.