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Using the Process of Elimination for Multiple Choice Questions

by S. Merritt on September 6, 2009

The standard mindset for any kind of testing is to come up with the right answer. Right? Well, that’s certainly a valid approach. After all, if you come up with all the right answers, then you’ll get a perfect score. What could be easier?

Welcome to reality. In the real world, people don’t know all the right answers. You may not even know most of the right answers. However, we do know that in multiple choice questions, the answer is there somewhere. You just have to find it. That’s the real advantage of multiple choice tests: the answer is already there.

The problem, though, is that finding the right answer can be like trying to remember something that’s on the tip of your tongue. The more you think about it the more elusive it can be. Sometimes, to remember things, you need to come at them…well, sort of sideways.

The equivalent process to this for multiple choice questions is called Process of Elimination, or POE. Using POE is simple. Instead of trying to find the right answer, simply try to find and eliminate the wrong ones. What’s left must be correct.

This isn’t just fluffy advice, but a fundamental way in which you look at the questions on your next exam. When you can’t think of the right one, stop trying to. Focus instead on finding wrong responses – the answers you simply know can’t be right. With each on you find, the odds of guessing correctly increase dramatically. At the same time, your test anxiety drops, and your confidence skyrockets.

Remember: Multiple choice questions aren’t necessarily about finding right answers.

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