Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ) exams with negative marking are the current trends for exams internationally. The exam pattern is feared by some students because the choices look confusing, tricky and risky, especially when exam preparation is not 100%. Here we would discuss few ways to improve scores to solve/crack the multiple choice questions (MCQ) based exam.
Having myself passed three of the 20 hottest certification exams (Sun Java, Value Engg, PMP) based on MCQ format, I have concluded that MCQ tests are like Driving License Test. These driving tests are not about whether you can start engine, put your foot on gas pedal and go. On the other hand, they are about general understanding of vehicle itself (i.e. exam pattern), navigation skills (when to speed up, when to slow down, have control at all times, do defensive driving), know all traffic symbols & rules- high speed lane is only meant to overtake (i.e. hurry up with questions only when essential), give way to vehicles when needed to be safe (skip tough questions to save time), look out on road for potholes/obstacles/wetness and slow down (i.e. watch out for tricky questions and don’t fall in traps/distracter), follow drive-test examiner’s instruction completely (follow the question’s instructions as to what is expected from us) and so on. Following are the general tips on how to crack multiple choice question (MCQ) exam:
Before the Exam (during preparation)
1) Thoroughly understand the exam pattern. Know all the sections of the exam and go prepared after evaluating negative marking scheme of exam.
2) Understand yourself i.e. know your strength and weaknesses. Strength lies where you had been able to answer the questions under 30 seconds just after sleep during preparation and weaknesses where you had the history of marking wrong choices even after contemplating on questions for 2-3 minutes.
3) Perfect the art of speed, correctness and gut feeling. Know a little bit of probability theory to decide if the odds of success in answering a question are rewarding or foolhardy. There is only a thin line that separates smartness and foolhardy.
4) Old is gold. Try to solve previous years question paper to understand the exam format and to build speed, correctness and understand if your gut feeling is normally right or wrong. One can download the previous year’s questions papers from multitude of sources online.
5) Keep in mind that MCQ format also tests the candidates differentiating skills. If one can develop the skills of eliminating one or two choices from 4 choices, one is on the way to success. Even if you feel the correct choice is not one of the choices, select the best choice.
6) Few calculation based questions may have shortcuts methods to solve them. Similarly, many of the theory concepts can be very well learnt using memorization tools. Everyone can recall how easy it is to learn the sequence of rainbow colors using VIBGYOR (Violet Indigo Blue Green Yellow Orange Red) acronym. I had devised a mnemonics list of about 50 such acronym words to remember during my PMP exam with great success (e.g. APES stands for Alternatives Identification, Product Analysis, Expert Judgment and Stakeholder Analysis and CEO stands for Collective bargaining agreements, Economic condition and Organization Structure). Speaking about our brain, the strength of the signal they convey is determined by use. The more a particular synapse is used, the stronger the signal it conveys. Therefore regular practice is a must for this method.
7) Develop some time management skills during schooling as it will pay-off handsomely during exams. Like experienced cricketers keep their nerve for long chase, learn how to pace your innings correctly. Don’t keep everything till the end, finish the exam 8-10 minutes before the schedule to perform some sanity checks. Few of the MCQ questions in exams are intentionally made long-worded to test if the candidates can handle time pressure. My trick for such questions used to be to read the last sentence of the question first to understand what is actually being asked.
8) Learn few deep breathing exercises and do it every hour for 1-2 minutes during exam. It will refresh your mind by supplying excess oxygen. Moreover, yogic breathing exercises are proven to bring positive attitude and one can keep the nerves well during exam. For me even praying worked wonders during exams.
During the Exam
1) Carefully read the question. After reading the question, briefly close the eyes and think what was written on this topic in your notes and textbook. Many a times, reading the choices first can mislead you to incorrect answers. The questions are framed to separate wheat from husk (i.e. such that students with inadequate preparation would be lured to select wrong answers-also known as distracters. Distracters are nicely worded ‘correct looking’ choices which are never part of exam curriculum.
2) First one should try to solve the problem since it is much faster than method of elimination. If you cannot solve it, then try to eliminate couple of choices, and then proceed with answering that question (if the negative marking is 1/4 or 1/3 of a correct answer). The odds of answering correctly now are more than negative marking scheme (the chances of success with one choice elimination is 33.3% and two choice elimination is 50% for 4 choice exam). If all choices looks alien to you, do yourself a favor by quickly moving to next question.
3) Be sure to read the end of the question i.e. words like Except, Not, Never, Always. Remember two negative phrases form one positive phrase. The choices that use words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ are most likely not the correct choice, however do confirm under which narrow circumstances such words are not suitable for an answer.
4) Further to point no. 3 above, also look at the end of choice if one of the choices is ‘All of the above’ and ‘None of the above’. In a fast paced world, sometimes we go too fast in selecting answers to repent later that speed should not be at the cost of correctness. Realize that you have to drive within ‘city limit’ and not try to race on ‘Formula One Circuit’. Spend time to observe if two choices are correct, then it is most probably ‘All of the above’ and likewise for ‘None of the above’.
5) Be aware that some answers (especially formulas, units, value of constants) for the problem can be available elsewhere in the exam questions. This is quite true for online exams where such things are difficult to avoid. They are like ‘extra runs’ and you got to take them. Therefore just park such questions for review later.
6) A couple of questions on the exam have choices almost looking like ‘twins’ i.e. two choices are identical except for a word or value. Most likely in such cases, the answer lies amongst those ‘twins’.
7) When you feel the question look tricky or difficult, read the question twice. If you feel the correct choice is not given as one of the choices or two choices appear to be correct, select the best choice. Select the option that is more descriptive/ qualifying and closely related to the question. Checkout for grammatical clues to match the question. If your question is in the singular then the answer might be also in the singular form and likewise. The answer should completely and directly address the question. In case the choice is only partly correct under specific narrow conditions, then it may not be the correct choice.
8) Generally try to attempt theoretical questions first and then questions which needs calculation. Our human nature is such that if we attempt a few confident questions in the beginning then we feel charged with positive energy that in turn increases our efficiency and speed for the rest of the exam.
9) Last but not the least, stay calm and composed during test. Be confident while taking the test. Do not panic if you have left questions unanswered as no one is perfect and many have to do that. Just make sure that the ones you have done are correct and you are able to get the target marks.
In nutshell, one can master the MCQ tests by knowing the subject thoroughly and practicing it under simulated conditions a number of times (more the better). If above rules are followed in right earnest, one can certainly improve their performance in MCQ based exams.