Test Hacks: How to Guess Like a Pro on Multiple Choice Tests
No matter how hard you studied and how prepared you feel, there are times during a test when you just have to wing it. It doesn’t matter how long you look at the question, you know that you have no idea what the answer is. Maybe you overlooked that section while you were studying or you might have just completely blanked out for a minute.
Whatever the reason is, there’s only one thing left to do: GUESS!
Guessing might seem like a random action, but there’s actually some logic and skill involved. There are a few different types of guessing:
- The Hail Mary: Randomly choose an answer and hope that you’re right.
- Meta-Guessing: Don’t look at the question/problem, just the answers.
- Educated Guessing: Choosing the best possible answer based on all the information available.
I’m going to be focusing on educated guessing here because it’s usually the best way to find the right answer when you’re really not sure which choice is right.
Hopefully you never have to use the Hail Mary because it’s basically a last resort. Meta-guessing can sometimes be useful when you’re using the process of elimination, but making an educated guess on multiple choice tests –using the methods I’m going to go over — is your best option.
Stick to Information from Class
Assuming you have actually been attending class, try to rely primarily on information the teacher has mentioned and what’s in your textbook instead of relying on personal knowledge.
If 3 out of the 4 choices are topics or words you discussed in class and one is completely unfamiliar to you, rule that one out.
When Two Choices Have Words That Sound Similar, Choose One of Them
If two of the choices on the test are nearly identical in terms of spelling, one of them is probably the right answer. Professors like to throw two similar options at you in an attempt to trip you up. If you’re guessing, this usually gives you a 50/50 shot.
If Two Choices Say the Same Thing, Choose Something Else
There are some scenarios where two answers are basically the same thing, just reworded to look different. For example:
Which tech entrepreneur was born in 1972?
A. Steve Jobs
B. Evan Williams
C. Alexis Ohanian
D. The person who made the iPod
Steve Jobs is the person who came up with the iPod, which means “A” and “D” are the exact same thing. With multiple choice questions, they can’t both be correct, so you can rule them both out. Now you have two options to choose from and have a much higher chance of getting it right.
Avoid Answers with “All,” “Every,” “None”
These universal quantifiers or absolutes seem to always get thrown into your options to throw you off. There aren’t many things in the world that are absolute, so it can be useful to steer clear of answers that use these words.
Eliminate Extreme Answers
If one of the options seems completely out of place, then it’s probably because it doesn’t belong. If you’re answering a math question and the options are:
Answers “C” and “D” stand out because they’re far off from “A” and “B.” Eliminate those as potential answers and you’re down to just “A” and “B.”
Look for Keywords from the Question in the Answer
In some cases, teachers will throw you a bone by including a keyword from the question inside the correct answer. It might be somewhat subtle, but it’s a great way to narrow down your options.
It’s similar to how you’re taught to repeat the question in your answer for short essay questions. For instance, if you had to answer the short essay question “What are the distinguishing features of amphibians?” you would answer: “Some of the features that distinguish amphibians are…”
Teachers sometimes have a habit of using that same concept when making answers for tests.
Some Answers Can Be Found in Other Questions
This is a popular method that I use for almost every test I take. Sometimes the answer to a question you’re struggling with is in another question on the test. For example, an early question might be: “What is Harry Brearley best known for?” followed later by “How did Harry Brearley invent stainless steel?”
You can find connected questions like these in almost every test. They might not be as obvious as the example above, but they are there. So if you’re stuck on a question, look around and try to find the answer in another question.
If Two Options Seem Correct, Choose “All of the Above”
If two of the options seem correct, and you’re not on the fence about the third option, going with the “all of the above” option might be your best bet.
You have to be really sure that two of the options are correct, though. If you’re only 50% sure, then “all of the above” isn’t necessarily a go-to option. But when you’re at least 80% sure that two of the options are correct, choose all of the above.
Eliminate Answers That Aren’t Grammatically Correct
Some professors are flat out lazy and copy and paste all of their exams from the internet. They’ll get the question and the corrent answer, then paste a bunch of options from other tests. The end result is usually answers that don’t make sense grammatically.
A HackCollege reader is an ________
A. Awesome student
B. Reality TV junkie
C. Leather jogging pants wearer
D. Nose picker
While you may love to wear leather jogging pants designed by Kanye West, the only answer that makes sense for the sentence is “A” because of the use of the word “an” before the blank.
When Two Choices Are Complete Opposites, One of Them is Probably Right
If two of your options are exact opposites, then there’s a good chance that one of them is the correct answer. It’s a trick that professors use to throw you off, and to make sure that you actually know the material.
What Happens to Red Blood Cells in a Hypertonic Solution?
A. They shrink
B. They expand
C. They disappear
D. They transform
You’re either going to go with “A” or “B” because they’re total opposites. The chances of one of them being correct is pretty high.
Don’t Read Too Deep into the Questions
When you really don’t know the answer to a question, it’s easy to overanalyze. You might wonder if it’s a trick question or if there’s some kind of deeper meaning. Most of the time the question means exactly what it says and you should take it at face value.
If you’re already confused, don’t make things even more complicated for yourself.
If One Word Appears in 2 or 3 Options, Choose One
Let’s say you’re presented with something like this:
Cats use _____ to sleep and dogs use ______ to sleep
A. XXX and YYY
B. ZZZ and XXX
C. XXX and TTT
D. TTT and ZZZ
The answer is probably “A,” “B,” or “C” because they all contain XXX. You could narrow it down further to “B” and “C” because they use ZZZ and TTT which also appear in “D.” The only one that has YYY in it is “A,” so that was probably thrown in there just to trip you up.
Sacrifice a Question
You might find yourself in a position where there are two questions with opposing answers. In situations like this, it can be a good idea to answer the questions so that you’re guaranteed to get at least one of them right. For example, take two questions:
1. Which of the following is true:
A. All dogs go to heaven
2. Which of the following is true:
B. All dogs do not go to heaven
Now, if you answered “A” for the first question “B” for the second, you have a better chance of getting at least one of them right. It’s better to get at least one right than to get both wrong.
The Most Important Rule
The most important thing to remember is that none of these methods or tips work 100 percent of the time. (After all, you’re guessing.) The point is to narrow down your options and come up with the best possible guess.
The best approach, though, is to study and be prepared for the test in order to avoid guessing altogether. And if all else fails, take the Hail Mary approach!