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How To Write a Multiple Choice Test: The Cycle Method

by S. Merritt on September 6, 2009

How you take your multiple choice test can affect your marks more than any other factor. The cycle method is one of the single best steps you can take to improve your grades. Best of all, you can implement it right away.

It works like this: instead of completing the multiple choice questions in numerical order, or in a linear fashion, you work through the entire test numerous times. It’s as simple as can be, but many people resist this approach. Don’t. Allow yourself to be flexible. Give it a try on some practice exams.

The cycle approach to multiple choice testing is extremely beneficial for a number of reasons:

  • It makes maximum use of your time
  • It boosts confidence, and reduces test anxiety
  • It helps with information recall
  • It ensures you won’t get caught short by the clock
  • Information found in later multiple choice questions can help you with earlier problemsÂ

The 4 Passes of the Cycle Method

  1. Scan – This is the quickest cycle through your multiple choice test, during which you do NOT answer any questions. Take 3-5 minutes to skim the test, observing the structure, the question styles, the number of options, and the overall length. Do NOT omit this pass – it’s here that you’ll create the entire foundation of your approach to the exam.
  2. Easy Questions– This can be the most encouraging or most terrifying pass of the exam, but it’s crucial. The idea during this second pass is to answer all the questions that you know the answer to almost immediately. In other words, don’t spend any longer than the moment it takes to read the question and options. Don’t be concerned if it feels like you’re only answering a handful of questions – there’s a good reason for this technique.
    Hint: mark all the unanswered questions with a pencil so you don’t have to waste valuable time on your next passes through comparing the answer key with the question page.
  3. Harder Questions – Once you’ve completed the easy pass, return to the start of the test. Start working your way through the remaining question. You’ll be surprised at how many answers seem more obvious on this pass. As with the Easy pass, don’t be afraid to skip any questions that you just can’t pin down. Remember that the Cycle system creates plenty of time to come back to them. The key is to focus on the marks you can get first, and save the rest for later.
  4. Final – The final phase is where two things happen. First, you build on the momentum, knowledge and mindset of the previous steps, and answer any final questions. The other things that happens during this stage is that you guess. That’s right – when all else fails, guess. (Guessing wisely is one of more than 50 techniques you can learn in Mastering Multiple Choice. You’ll even learn when to guess on tests with that deduct marks for incorrect answers.)

Modifying the Cycle System
Don’t be afraid to add more cycles. You might pass through the test a dozen times, answering a few questions each time, letting your brain work, and looking for answers elsewhere in the test. Just don’t add fewer cycles – you’ll end up back in the same old rut of running out of time.

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