Multiple Choice Tests

Hello, everyone,

I’m asking for any advice people have to offer on how to excel on Multiple Choice Tests. I’m currently in a biomedical sciences program in Philadelphia. I majored in Psychology in college and took pre-med classes. I have my master’s degree in the Medical Humanities. I’ve applied to med schools, but after not getting accepted, I decided to do this biomedical sciences program. My biggest challenge, and surprise, has been the multiple choice tests which I never liked. I went to a liberal arts college where we rarely ever had MC tests. Now, every single grade depends on those MC tests—biochemistry, neuroscience, histology, physiology, immunology, anatomy. What suggestions do members of the community have for studying for and excelling in MC tests for someone who excelled on the short-answer and essay tests I’ve always had?



Well, to be honest, I believe that the best way to handle MC tests in general is to know the answer before you see the choices available. Usually you will find that their are two answers that closely match, but one will be more right than the either.

However, for the MCAT and some other types of MC tests, it is important to use critical thinking…they want to see how you will apply the information given to find the best answer.


Hi Jen.

I don’t consider myself an expert on mc tests either but I’ve taken my share of both mc choice type tests and q&a tests as well, and here are some thoughts of mine on the subject:

  1. Try and determine the answer before looking at the options you have… many people I know try and use the options the tests provide and work backwards to arrive at which is the correct one, I feel this is counterproductive. If you studied the matieral, know which principal, equation, concept etc to apply then use it to find the answer.

  2. Be really attentive of detail. By this I mean Professors (the particularly evil ones ) will have an option listed that can be arrive through calculations and is seemingly correct… but is wrong. For example, if you have to apply the Ideal Gas Law, and need to convert any temps to deg K, then an option could be listed whereby the calculation was done with deg C. So you might walk away from an exam thinking you got it right because there was an option present, but it’s not the case.

  3. Pacing is important. Most exams for science classes I have taken have at least a MC section and also a problems section at the end. I typically look at the total amount of time the exam will last and pace myself to spend x amount of minutes on MC, y amount of minutes on Essay/Problems. If you miss 1 or 2 MC then it’s not a big deal, but if you did stellar on MC but arrived at the problems section without enough time then your grade will really be impacted negatively.

  4. Take any sample exams or exam questions a professor might have distributed the week or days before a big exam (Not all profs make this available, but in all of my math&science courses a sample exam from the year past was made available). I have never had a test where a professor has not reused a few questions from last year lol. These questions will just be worded a bit differently or have different numbers but the essence remains the same. (I mean, jeez, who has time to write a whole NEW exam! )

  5. If you’re running out of time on a MC, then guess, or better yet make an educated guess! Unless there is a guessing penalty, putting something down is better then not having anything there at all. Ideally, you probably should have been able to eliminate a few choices on a question, which greatly improves your odds of getting a lucky guess right.

    Well hope that helps.

I guess that depends on the type of MC. Some are straight forward so you either know the answer or you don’t. Others you have to think it through. I guess I’m asking for an example. I had MC test in micro that had an A-G…(“a is correct, c & g are correct, b & a are incorrect…”) So what kind and I’ll try to help.

The real simple answer is you have to know the information. For me it’s flashcards. Nothing works better. However the caveat is reading them outloud.

Don’t try to know just what. Ask how and why when you are studying for these tests. Make up some metaphors (think Dr. House) when trying to make sense out of a chemical or physiological reaction of some sort. Compare and contrast. Example: Instead of thinking of a list of 15 characteristics each for three different subjects(being general for simplicity), think about what all three have in common, and then focus more on what makes them different. Don’t read too much into the question. However, there are times when superlatives and words like always, sometimes and never can be key in whether an answer is right or wrong.

Speaking of tough exams, I had an Intro Biology prof last summer that busted our balls on our exams. Because it was a MW course, and the following Monday was the 4th of July, a whole week would pass between last day of class/mini-review and exam. So she said, knowing that many would’ve suffered taking it on the following Wednesday, gave us a take home. It was the hardest I’ve ever had. 10 pages total, a mix of multiple-multiple choice, short-answer, essay, multiple matching, etc. While I had confidence with the material, I took full-advantage of referring when I had doubt. The textbook was good for maybe 25% of the exam, and so I spent the entire weekend researching online, from which I learned and retained a lot.

Hi Jen,

I once remember a post stating that the advantage to taking nursing courses before going pre-med was not the content as we don’t get hit with the “fire hose” of information, but the skills learned to take a multiple choice exam. I’m curious if pre-meds or med students are ever taught how to excell on critical thinking exams, other than know the content? I’ll find out someday.

There are books out there on taking the MCAT, however concerning critical thinking skills I have learned an enormous amount from the following book “Test Success” ISBN 0-8036-1162-5. You may be turned off by the beginning nursing students in the title. When we read a question, yest we need to know labs, intended/adverse pharm effects, nursing tmt. However, when we read our exam questions they rarely require regurgitative knowledge but comprehension, application, and analysis to choose the correct answer. This is what critical thinking is all about. And can only help you on the MCAT and USMLEs to come. If anything it will sharpen you for the verbal portion of the MCAT.

Again, you will not need to learn the nursing process…obviously. However, in seeing how ANY process (multiple concepts) can be integrated into a single question, you will begin to learn “What” a multiple choice question is “really” asking you, and hopefully apply the following types of skill.

  1. To eliminate distractors in a question stem.

  2. To “see” question stems with positive or negative polarity.

  3. To recognize answers that complete the sentence begun in the question stem.

  4. To recognize Key words in the stem to guide you to choose between 2 similar answers.

  5. When to identify the “global” answer as the correct option.

  6. etc.

    Possibly, when you do rotations as an intern just think how impressed those nurses could be when you tell them a nursing book helped you with your exam skills…fewer impactions/enemas for you my dear, they’ll love you for it. (Hey Cr??z?, make that white coat a stronger chic magnet )

    You can probably get it used (maybe for only 50cents) on amazon, can’t hurt.

    Let me know if this helps. ISBN 0803611625