Archive for May 9th, 2014

Tips for Taking Multiple Choice Tests: Test Writing Strategies That are Evil

You can download a copy of the entire set of tips here:Tips for taking Multiple Choice Tests

And finally, a word (okay, lots of words!) about the psychology of testing:

  1. Notice how the test itself is constructed based on the pattern of question item difficulty. On standardized tests, there are usually FOUR levels of difficulty for the multiple choice sections: rather easy, somewhat easy, rather difficult, and very difficult. Many standardized tests are also tests of your endurance and mental toughness. The test writers will sometimes deliberately organize these four types of questions according to certain patterns:

Strategy 1: Start with mostly easy questions and get progressively harder with the most difficult questions at the end. They may throw in a hard one here or there, but the general pattern is progressive intensity.
Solutions: Make sure you use your time wisely, and pace yourself, because this will wear you down once you get past the halfway point unless you remember to use the other strategies mentioned above.

Strategy 2: Create subsets of progressively difficult questions to slow you down and make it harder for you to finish the test. This strategy also means that if you are not time conscious and allow yourself to get bogged down, you will miss out on answering some easy questions later in the test, which would have boosted your score. So here’s how they do this: Say you are taking an 80 question test. They will create ten groups of 8 questions, with the first two questions rather easy, the next two a bit harder, the next two somewhat difficult, and the next two very difficult. Then the pattern will begin again. The overall strategy is to make you obsess over the harder ones, and slow down.
Solutions: Use the strategies above, but if you can’t find the answer within 30 seconds or so, skip that question and go on to the next one. Make sure you get through the entire test, answering all those easier ones, and then go back and attack the harder ones. But be mindful of the time! Also make sure you don’t get off track in the bubbling of your answers.

Strategy 3: Start off with difficult questions and get progressively easier. Once again, they are trying to break you psychologically and make you give up. Once you start panicking, you will miss questions you normally would have gotten right because your brain is being flooded with panic signals. You may even stop recognizing easy questions.
Solutions: If this seems to be the case, try starting from the back of the test and working backwards from there. Or try going to the middle of the test, working forward to the end, and then working backward toward the front. But whatever you do, don’t just sit there and allow yourself to get freaked out. Remind yourself that you have got this, that you have prepared, and that you laugh in the face of their pitiful little ploys. Sneer, and move on.

Strategy 4: Start off easy, and then bam! in the middle drop in the hard questions. They’re trying to do the same thing that I described in strategy 3—make you panic and give up.
Solutions: Once you realize this, you don’t have to waste a lot of time trying to figure out where the nightmare section ends. Skip to the end and work backward from there. Remember to keep track of the time, and don’t let one or two or five questions suck up all your time.


Tips for Taking Multiple Choice Tests: The Test

You can download a copy of the entire set of tips here: Tips for taking Multiple Choice Tests


1. Do NOT psych yourself out.

If you believe you have a mental block on multiple-choice tests, you will certainly have that mental block. If you believe you are going to fail, you have just made that very thing much more likely. Panic actually bathes your brain in chemicals that slow or halt its functioning. Breathing brings oxygen to your brain. So BREATHE!

2. Look over the test and pace yourself.

If there are 15 items on a math test, and you are given 90 minutes to do them, you obviously have roughly 6 minutes per item. Look over the test, and do the easy ones first. This will not only now make the test size more manageable in your mind, it will also boost your confidence and help you manage time better. It will also give you more time per remaining item! If you can, give yourself a few seconds’ break within the test time to take a breath and refocus.

Try to leave time for review before the test period is up. Give yourself a brief 15-30 second break where you clear your mind and think of something relaxing before you do this to clear your head.

3. Read each question thoroughly.

Read the question BEFORE you look at the answers. Come up with the answer in your head, and THEN look at the choices.

Look for key words such as NOT, ALWAYS, EXCEPT, ALL OF THE FOLLOWING… BUT, etc. They may not be capitalized, so make sure you slow your eyes down. Underline them or circle them so that you notice them.

4. Read each choice carefully.

Do not operate by instinct. You will overlook key words or get caught by a distractor or a partially right answer.

Read each choice. Did you find the obvious right answer? GREAT! If not, make sure the answer you choose answers the complete question, especially if you get down to one of two possible right answers.

5. Pretend that each choice is a true or false statement, and choose the statement that is most true.

Rephrase the question with the answer you chose as a statement. Ask yourself: is this true?

6. Use your knowledge of vocabulary to eliminate wrong answers.

If a question is asking about water, and you know hydro- is the Greek root for water used in a possible answer, that may very well lead you to the correct answer.

7. Remember, the right answer is there!

Eliminate the obviously wrong answers. If you don’t see it, and you have prepared completely, then you are probably misreading either the prompt or the choices. Reread.

Eliminate obviously wrong answers. These are called “distractors” for a reason.

8. Most multiple choice questions involve either simple recall, cause/effect, or comparison.

9. DO NOT CHANGE YOUR FIRST ANSWER unless you discover that you have misread or misunderstood a question.

10. Guess rather than leave an item blank.

There is no penalty for guessing on my tests, but a blank is a wrong answer without question.

11. If you see “all of the above” as an option, check to see if you can find two answers you are certain that are right. If you do not find this, all of the above is the answer, or the test authors have screwed up. It happens. Get over it and move on.

Test Taking Strategies for Multiple Choice Tests: Studying

You can download a newly revised copy of this here: Tips for taking Multiple Choice Tests


1. Organize the material in your head as you learn it:

Learning Process:
1. What do I already know about this topic?
2. What is the BIG PICTURE?
3. Use your material in different ways. Here are some of the common TYPES of test item questions by task:

What is the definition of this?
What is an example of this?
What are the different types of this?
What is this related to?
How is this significant?
What else is this like?
What caused this/ What happened because of this?
Who did this?
Why/When did this happen?
What is the pattern or trend?


2. Take good class notes, and study them carefully! BOIL IT DOWN TO THE ESSENCE!

Before the test, paraphrase and summarize your material. Make flash cards of the specific terms, which are lower level thinking (basic recall) items. Organize your information according to topic or time period, in the case of history class. Make a picture mentally, if you can.

Create a hook for remembering the information: When you are 18, you can’t drink legally– the 18th Amendment outlawed alcohol sales and consumption in the US. When you are 21, you can legally drink–the 21st Amendment legalized the sale and consumption of alcohol again.

Fit this new knowledge into the framework of previous knowledge. Ask yourself: How does this relate to what I already know?

3. Increase your vocabulary throughout the year, and

use the internet to look up terminology specific to the content area you are getting ready to be tested over. For instance, I had to take a test that included a section on microeconomics, which I had not studied in several years. Plus, I only found out I had to take this test two days before it was given. So I went onto the internet and searched for “microeconomics terminology” and “microeconomics glossary.” I then studied off those lists and definitions. I then recognized and understood almost every term used in that section of the test when I actually took it.

4. Pay attention to the subareas or themes on the test. For instance, in AP US history, search for “AP US history themes” and you might find something like, say, this document. Then make sure that you study the themes which are your weaknesses.

5. Space out your study time.

Say you’ve got 2 hours to study for a test. It is better to study for thirty minutes in the four days prior to the test than for two hours in a row. For the AP Test, you need to start studying weeks before the actual test.

6. Eliminate distractions.

Turn off the cell phone, the TV, Facebook, etc. PUT THE CELL PHONE IN ANOTHER ROOM! Concentrate on the task at hand and really devote yourself to it. It is better to study for twenty minutes with concentration than to spend two hours watching Jersey Shore with the book open in front of you. Be honest—you haven’t studied at all at the end of those two hours, but you have become an expert on how dumb Snooki really is.

7. Familiarity breeds huge gaps of knowledge.

Have someone else choose practice questions for you—you can do this online by using AP review sites, or you can have someone else quiz you. If you choose the items to study you will gravitate towards material you are familiar with. You can’t study what you do not know that you don’t know. Yes, read that again—it makes sense.

8. Study in simulated test conditions. REHEARSE!

Early on in your preparation, study by yourself. Later on, study with a partner or a group. During that time, you should be quizzing each other and discussing the reason why you chose certain answers on practice items. Right before the test, give yourself some simulated questions that your study partners have chosen (see 5) and then check them for accuracy.

9. Study backwards.

Study the latest material you covered first, and study the earliest material you studied right before the exam. Make sure you provide MORE TIME for the older material than you provided for the new material.

10. GET ENOUGH REST, AND LAY OFF THE RED BULLS AND FRAPPACHINOS! Eat a decent breakfast, dress in layers in case it is too cold or too hot in the testing room, and remember to BREATHE.

Make sure you sleep after each study session, because during sleep your brain will actually cement the knowledge you just added into place so that you can find it again—otherwise known as “memory.” If you don’t sleep, your brain will not create the directories and pathways to organize the information so that you can recall it.