Exam Strategy: The Guessing Game

How to Improve Your Chance at Picking the Correct Answer When You are Not Sure Which One is Right

Although no one wants to admit it, everyone at this academic level has done it. There has come a time on an exam where you just simply did not know the answer. Even on a multiple-choice format, where you know the correct answer is looking right at you, you still cannot seem to single it out. Licensure exams rely very heavily on a multiple-choice format. As such, the AATBS team thought it would be beneficial to go over the best strategies for picking the correct answer even when you are not entirely sure what the correct answer may be.

Know what the question is asking

Many times, multiple choice questions like throw in little confusing phrases such as “not,” “sometimes,” “always,” and “never.” Multiple choice questions are notorious for having confusing phrasing. If you do not feel confident finding an answer at first, make sure to read and re-read the question. Sometimes, a single word in the phrasing can change the entire meaning of the question. Make sure that you fully understand what the question is asking before proceeding.

Additionally, Check to see if this list of answers contains options such as “All of the above” or “None of the above.” If “All of the above” is an option for you, then your job just got a little easier. Look through the questions to find out if there are two that at least seem correct. If there are, then your best bet is to go with “All of the above.” The reverse may not be true, however, if there are two that seem incorrect. It may just be that those are the distractors! To accurately select “None of the above,” you will really need to feel confident that all of the potential responses are incorrect.

Eliminate the distractors

This may seem obvious, but it is all too easily forgotten. There is usually at least one answer mixed in with the rest of the answers that just very plainly does not fit. Explain to yourself why this answer does not fit, and it may help you to understand why some of the other possible responses are not the best answer. Just eliminating one answer and talking yourself through the elimination, ideally you will be able to identify some others that may be wrong. Through process of elimination you will give yourself a better chance at the right answer.

Come back to it

Flag the question to come back to later. Keep it in the back of your mind and let your unconscious work on it. By now, you have likely studied all these topics fairly well. Drawing a blank on some questions is almost guaranteed to happen. If you have the opportunity, put a mark next to it and come back to it later. You might have heard that the best mental break is mentally engaging in another task. If you cannot come up with an answer at the time, it is unlikely that staring that the question will help you generate the answer. Instead, giving yourself a “mental break” of sorts by working on other questions may help you coax the answer out of the back of your mind. Working through other questions may help trigger your memory, as well. Sometimes other questions have embedded in them the answers to others. In that way, if you know the answer to one question, you might be given the answer to the tricky question by default.

If all else fails, take an educated guess

Think about street performers. How do they seem to know so much about you with such limited information? They use context and other clues to piece together the most logical story. Very often, they are right—that is what makes the act so intriguing! In your case, you will not be trying to read a person. Instead, you are going to have to read the question. Take what you can from both the questions and the answers. Try to gain a context about the topic. Look for connections among the answers and the questions. Even try to connect these answer options and the question itself with other topics that you are more familiar with. You should be able to make an educated guess off these connections.

Ready to Take the First Step to Prep?

Get access to sample questions to get a feel to practice questions and detailed rationales.

Sign Up Free