The Learning Center TLC

Test Taking

  • Objective tests are very common in large classes because they are easily scored and because they are "objective": your answer is either right or wrong. But sometimes students who know the course material thoroughly still do poorly on objective tests. The following suggestions may help you get a higher grade on your next objective test.
  • Arrive early and try to relax.
  • Scan the whole test immediately. Budget your time appropriately; don't spend 25% of your time on questions that are worth only 10% of the points.
  • Read the directions SLOWLY. Then reread them--and follow them carefully.
  • Read each question carefully. Watch for key words--particularly little words like "not" which completely reverse the meaning of the question. "Which of the following is not..." is a much different question than "Which of the following is..."
  • Answer the easiest questions first. If you don't know the answer to a question, mark the question and go on to the ones you do know; come back to the hard questions later.
  • Your first instinct is usually best. Don't change your answer. Once you have filled in the answer, DON'T CHANGE IT.
  • Since most objective tests are graded by how many answers you get right, rather than by the percentage of right answers out of the total answered, DON'T LEAVE QUESTIONS UNANSWERED. If you have 12 questions that you don't know the answers to, the probability is that you can get the correct answers to three of them just by the process of elimination.
  • Pace yourself. Fifty questions in fifty minutes means you have one minute per question; if you spend ten minutes trying to figure out one question, you have forty minutes left for forty-nine questions.

Multiple Choice

Multiple choice tests usually consist of a question followed by four or five answers. Check the directions to see if more than one answer can be correct. Read the question and answer it in your mind before you read the possible answers. Select the answer that best answers the question as stated, and read all the answers before you decide which is the correct one.

  • Sometimes there will be "all of the above" or "none of the above" as possible answers. If you are sure that two answers are true, the answer has to be "all of the above"; if you are sure that two of the answers are false, the answer to the question can be "none of the above."
  • When you cannot decide on an answer, mark out the obviously wrong ones and go on to other questions; go back to the troublesome questions later. If you mark out the wrong ones you won't waste time rereading them later. Be careful, though, about marks. Make sure the person grading the exam knows which answer you have selected.
  • It does not pay to change answers--your first instinct is usually best.
  • Don't assume that the shortest or longest of the choices is right or wrong.
  • If incorrect answers are not deducted from your score, DO NOT LEAVE ANY QUESTIONS BLANK; GUESS! Here are some guidelines for intelligent guessing:
    • If two answers are similar except for one or two words, guess one of those answers.
    • If two answers have similar looking or similar sounding words, guess one of those answers.
    • If two quantities are almost the same, guess one of those.
    • If the answers cover a wide range (10, 100, 1000, 100,000, 1,000,000), guess one in the middle.
    • If the answer calls for a sentence completion, eliminate answers that do not form a grammatically correct sentence.
    • If an answer has an unfamiliar term, do not choose that answer.

True and False

  • Make no assumption about an answer pattern. It is possible to have all true or all false answers, or an extraordinary imbalance.
  • Read the entire question, not just the first few words.
  • For an answer to be true, every part of it must be true. For example, consider the statement, "Chlorine gas is a greenish, poisonous, foul-smelling, and very rare gas used in water purification." That's a false statement: it is green, it is poisonous, it does stink, and it is used in water purification. However, it is not rare.
  • Pay particular attention to "word of degree" in each statement. These are words such as all, every, most, some, always, equal, less, more, best, worst. They are critically important words in true/false questions, and frequently come in a series in the answers, like this:
    • Which of the following statements is true?
      a. All roses are red.
      b. Most roses are red.
      c. Some roses are red.
      d. No roses are red.
    The degree words are: all, most, some, and no. You know that some roses are yellow, so (a) cannot be true; you know that some roses are red, so (d) cannot be true. You know the true answer has to be either (b) or (c) and you should choose (c) because you know that to be true simply because you have seen some red roses and "most roses are red" seems logically unlikely to be true.
  • If there are no "words of degree," you must assume that the statement refers to all cases. For example, the statement "roses are red" should be marked false because it means all roses by implication. If it had a word of degree like "some roses are red," it would be true, because some roses are yellow, pink, even white.
  • If there is no penalty for wrong answers, guess at the ones you don't know.

Short Answer/Fill-in-the-Blanks

By its nature, this kind of question is usually less subtle than other forms of objective tests. Don't expect tricks.

  • Read the question carefully; the context often gives clues to the answer.
  • Be brief and specific; concentrate on key words and facts.
  • Look over all the questions. Fill-in-the-blank questions often contain information that may help answer questions on other parts of the test.


Matching items usually consist of two columns; one is the "question" column, and one is the "answer" column. The answer column often is longer than the question column, and contains extra items which may be close to the correct answer. At times there will be the same number of items in each column, and occasionally each question item may have more than one, or even several, correct answers.

  • Try all answers before selecting each one. If each answer is used only once, there are fewer and fewer possible answers to choose from. The instructions usually will specify whether an answer may be used more than once.
  • Always read the instructions on a matching item carefully.
  • Don't match the first answer that sounds right; read all of them. Some of the answers may be "sucker" answers, intended to trick unwary readers.