Skip to Main Content

Succeed at Exams

Understand multiple choice exams

  • A multiple-choice question usually includes a statement or question followed by 4 or 5 choices. You must select the best answer from the choices given.  
  • Some students study for multiple choice exams only until the point that they can recognize a correct answer. However, multiple choice exams can be designed so that many possible answers look correct.
  • By paying attention to the details of the question and having confidence in the course material, you can choose the correct answer more consistently.

Prepare before the exam

Collect exam information

  • Identify the content that the exam is likely to cover by reviewing the course outline, CourseLink, and textbook chapters for summaries of course content. 
  • Identify the type of knowledge that you will need to demonstrate in the exam. Will the exam emphasize factual details, conceptual understanding, or a combination? Analyze the course outline, review previous tests and quizzes, and use your course notes to make predictions.
  • Read Succeed at Exams: Start Here for additional suggestions.

Choose proven study techniques

  • Questions may use different vocabulary or examples than those from class or the textbook. Make sure you understand the concept and can recognize it when presented in a different way.
  • Pay attention to concepts or terminology that can be easily confused. Your professor will know this and will likely test to see if you can differentiate between similar concepts. Study techniques like matrix charts can help you compare and contrast concepts.
  • Go beyond re-reading your notes when you study. Use active study methods to help you deepen your understanding and retain knowledge. See Effective Studying for suggestions on taking notes, creating concept maps, and more.
  • Review Study for Exams for details on implementing two study techniques: practice tests and distributive studying. 

Prepare for online exams

  • Will your exam be monitored through Respondus lockdown browser or some other means?
  • Is your exam timed or untimed?
  • Do you have a quiet place to complete the exam? 
  • Do you have adequate wifi?
  • If the exam is using Respondus with webcam, does your testing environment follow the requirements outlined in CourseLink or in Respondus?
  • Is your testing environment free of potential distractors like phones, pets, and clutter that can affect your focus?
  • Do you have all necessary equipment like pencils, paper, calculators, water, snacks and student ID close by?

Learn more about online exams in Write Online Exams.

Prepare for in-person exams

  • Sometimes exams are scheduled in different places than lectures. Check WebAdvisor and/or Courselink to determine the location and time of the exam.
  • Aim to arrive 30 minutes ahead of time so you aren’t feeling rushed.
  • Keep up to date with campus health protocols.
  • Bring your student ID.
  • Bring with you any necessary equipment like pencils, paper, calculator, and water.

Learn more about in-person exams in Write In-Person Exams

Use effective strategies to write the exam

Follow these steps when you encounter a challenging multiple-choice question:

  1. Read the question carefully, before looking at the choices:
    1. Note key terms or concepts. 
    2. Note important words like “not” that change or reverse the meaning of the question.
    3. If you encounter unfamiliar content in the question, don’t panic! If you’ve been attending lectures regularly and have studied the material, you have probably studied material that is related to the question. Think about how the question might be related to other material in the course.
    4. Watch out for distractors, which are extraneous bits of information that might distract you from the real purpose of the question. Cross out the distractors and underline the key points to help you maintain focus.
    5. Attempt to answer the question based on your prior knowledge without looking at the choices.
  2. If you are having trouble understanding a question, try to rephrase it in your own words. 
    1. Read the alternatives carefully
      • Note key terms and words
      • Try and reason why an answer may be incorrect. This can help you logically remove options and feel confident about it
      • Note absolute terms like “always”, “no”, “must” or “never.” In many cases, absolute statements are often incorrect. If you can think of one exception, an absolute statement would be false. 
    2. If you are confident an option is incorrect, eliminate it. This can help you narrow down the options to find the correct one.
    3. Select the choice that is the most like the answer you thought of in step 1.
  3. Answer the question
    1. Ensure you have not just chosen a response that is factually correct, but one that answers the question directly.
    2. Once you have selected your answer, read the question with the answer to ensure you have not misread either.
  4. Review your answers
    1. Review your answers before turning in your exam. If you suspect an answer is incorrect, you may be right! Reread the question and apply some of the above strategies to help you feel more confident before changing it. 

Strategies when two or more answers look correct

  • Reread the question when you read each answer; sometimes reading the question and answer together can help you better identify logical connections (or the lack of logical connections) between them.
  • An answer that is only right under narrow conditions, or that requires exceptions or assumptions to be true, is less likely to be the correct answer than an answer that holds true in many situations.
  • Consider the context of the question; two answers may be correct statements, but only one will fit the overall context of the question.
  • Try identifying the worse answer rather than the better one.

Budget your time

  • Multiple choice exams can be long.  It can take concentration and energy to stay focused and to read each question carefully.
  • Calculate the amount of time you can spend on each section or question according to the number of marks it's worth. 
  • Leave time at the end of the exam to return to unfinished questions.
  • Work quickly and skip questions that you can’t answer right away.  Cross out options that are obviously wrong to save time when you return to the question later.

Use exam results to improve your skills

  • ​​​​​​Review your marked exam to see where you have gone wrong, and where you have done well. 
  • If your instructor doesn’t routinely return exams, go to office hours and ask if you can see your exam to learn from your errors.
  • Use the Analyze Exam Errors guide to review feedback and improve your exam-writing skills.

Suggest an edit to this guide

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.