Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) Exams – How to Crack Them

This post is all about “How to Crack Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) Exam”. I am pleased to share with blog readers that today my article on the subject has been published  by, the best online article publisher directory.

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“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.

Good luck for exams.

The author is the webmaster of the popular blog on college education:

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14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ramya Janaki on February 22, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Dear Sir,

    Your website has given immense information for students who are aspiring to become Engineers/Doctors.
    I am particularly interested in MBBS admissions and please provide updated information on the various admission call-outs now.
    I am an NRI student based in UAE and would like to pursue MBBS in India under NRI quota – preference would be chennai

    • Dear Janaki,
      For Chennai, we know SRMC is best choice as the college features in top 25 medical colleges (there are only 2-3 colleges that have NRI quota and feature in top 25). Unfortunately, MBBS options do not have anything like DASA and the parents have to do their own ‘bargaining’ for the seats. Since the admission process is opaque and smacks of corruption, we are not able to give out more names than already given in our article on “MBBS Options for NRIs….”.
      Message to all MBBS Aspirants- Study well and qualify in AIPMT and get admitted in govt medical colleges that provide the best education at very low fees. We have just written an article on ‘How to Crack AIPMT Exam’ for such aspirants.
      Raj n Neena

  2. Posted by RAMYA JANAKI on March 18, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Thank you for your immediate response which I could see only today having been busy on board exams.
    Please could you throw some more info on the SRM medical college Kancheepuram, MCI website states “recommended for approval” for this college.
    Please advise if SRM could be a good option

    Thank you and best regards


    • For MBBS, I would say SRMC-Chennai is second best private college after KMC Manipal. However, no idea about SRM Kanchipuram as it’s an unknown being and would think twice before joining the first batch of a new college, that too a medical college.

  3. I would like to know more about mains exam(final exam) which comes after preliminary exam.I would also like to know more about kmc,mangalore and the cut off ranks in that college.
    thanks a ton

    • AIPMT Mains exam has become multiple choice exam since 2010 (earlier it used to be more of a memory-based theory-based descriptive exam). There are 120 questions wherein 30 physics plus 30 chemistry and 60 questions for Biology. I suggest all AIPMT aspirants to get hold of last 10-15 years of AIPMT exam question papers and try to find out the weaker areas. I know one thing, 20% of weak areas result in 80% of errors (just like 20% people/country own 80% of world’s wealth). Solving too many objective type questions is not a solution, neither is just concentrating to 100% theory part. Best results are obtained by studying smartly- solving a couple of real-life question papers, identify the weak area,then implement the new learning on second set of question papers and same error finding and learning mission.
      For KMC-Manipal, I suggest you directly contact them as I understand their administrators are quite customer-friendly (they charge high fee for this!)

  4. Posted by Arshaque hussain on January 5, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    Respected sir
    i read the strategies given by u and it really stimulates impulses of confidence for cracking the coming exam. I want to know how i should prepare biology for AIPMT pre and mains.i am very confident with the conceptual topics(plant physiology,etc) but mugging parts disturbes me

    • Frankly, Indian education system is mugging based to a large extent (except for some of the entrance exams, but the ‘parrot’ business re-appears after entrance test while pursuing professional courses). Bottomline for entrance exams is- you should be able to identify the correct answer- doesn’t matter if it comes out of understanding the subject or mugging business.

  5. Posted by Arshaque hussain on January 5, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    Sir,the strategies givenby you wre fabulous.please tell me how to prepare physics for the exam,as many times it happens that students are unable to keep preparation for phy. Parallel with the other two topics

    • Time management is very important for efficient utilization of available time. Try solving couple of tests (AIPMT/AIEEE) and evaluate which subject is weakest- and decide priorities. Mock tests are,therefore, very important tool for taking a call on time management.

  6. Posted by rahul on February 17, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    sir as per dasa last year above 2000 seats are announced but merit list declared only 790 may be. is that true or all 2000 seats fillup. what are the chances of 1790 score in any center and branch .

    • Since DASA scheme has specified min SAT2 score of 1800, it is not proper to discuss ifs and buts for scores less than that. Would suggest to improve score as multiple attempts are allowed.

  7. Posted by Sophia on June 5, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    We are residing in Singapore for the past 10 yrs, basically from B’lore, Karnataka. My daughter is currently studying 10th here. We would like to return to India soon. My girl is interested in doing medicine. Is it better to do 11th & 12th in India or Singapore?

    • The pre-medical entrance exams are very difficult for out of state students and for AIPMT. Please check the exact domicile requirement for Karnataka COMEDK exam and then take a call.

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