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Multiple-Choice: Getting your technique right

You’d think that multiple-choice questions are all about finding the right answers, right?

Not always. Successful students follow proven multiple-choice techniques to ensure the best possible results. Whether English, Maths, or Reasoning, follow the below techniques to make the most of every exam paper.

1. Get to the end and win the points you know.

Every paper contains easier, harder, and much harder questions. The trap in the much harder questions isn’t just the complexity of the question itself, but the time it takes to answer them.

Also, much harder is subjective. Spotting literary devices, constructing cube nets or deciphering algebra, could fall anywhere between easier and much harder, depending on the child. For this reason, the much harder questions are often worth exactly the same number of points as the easier questions.

The risk here is wasted time. Getting stuck on one tricky question could cost you the time to answer 10 easier ones. Or to put it differently, trying to get 1 point you might not get, could cost you 10 points you would.

So how should this be managed? There is a simple rule of thumb that will work in almost every case:

Can I confidently answer this question in 1 minute or less?

YES → Answer the question.

NO → Circle the question on the paper AND the answer sheet and move on to the next question.

Pushing through to the end of the paper achieves two critically important goals.

Firstly, it ensures that you answer every single question that you are capable of answering.

Secondly, it leaves time at the end of the test to both tackle the harder content and check your answers.

It is absolutely essential to circle the question on the answer sheet in the case of paper exams. Apart from being able to identify the question later on, this also helps to avoid the mistake of marking your answer on the wrong question. For example, if you skip Q.25 and move on to Q.26, you need to be sure that you log the answer for Q.26 in the right place. If you log it in Q.25, you risk logging every single answer in the wrong question and failing the exam.

So, push to the end, win the points you know you can, then tackle the tricky ones and double-check the easier ones.

2. Find the wrong answers and play the odds.

In a perfect world your child will be able to decipher the answer to every question. They’ll also go to bed on time, prefer books to screens and salad to chocolates. Life is rarely perfect.

If you simply don’t understand or cannot solve a question, what do you do?

The traditional answer is to guess. This is good advice, but let’s push the odds in our favour by removing the answers we are confident are not correct.

Take 286 x 5 as an example.

Every single multiple of 5, from 5x5 to 76438690x5, ends with a 0 or a 5.

So, if the answers available are:

a. 1430

b. 1435

c. 1438

d. 1522

e. 1400

Then we can automatically discount C and D. This moves our odds of guessing the right answer from 1 in 5 to 1 in 3.

This is a particularly clear-cut example, but the general concept works across comprehension, reasoning and almost any question type.

3. Watch the clock.

Most 11 Plus exams allow roughly 1 minute per answer. This varies, so make sure you assess it each time. 45 minutes for 40 questions gives you slightly more, 45 minutes for 50 questions gives you slightly less time.

Train the habit of checking the clock every 5 questions, without fail. It is vital that you manage the time allocated correctly. Schools don’t just want the right answer. They want the right answer in the right time.

Keeping an eye on the clock helps you to remember the importance of getting to the end (1.) and keeps that front of mind.

4. Answer every question.

This is implicit in what we’ve already discussed. But it’s so important that it warrants underlining again.

Never, ever, ever leave a question blank in a multiple-choice exam!

The only reason to do this would be if negative points are scored, by which I mean that no answer= 0 but the wrong answer= -1. This is extremely rare, so rare that it’s almost always safe to assume it is not the case.

If you guess 5 questions, statistically, you’ll get 1 right. If you do that following the advice given in section 2 above, you might lift that to 1 in 4 or better. Every question is worth about 2%, so every question could be the difference between pass and fail.

Have a go!


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