Forward-only multiple-choice exam tips
A “forward-only” online exam starts at the first question and progresses one question at a time, in order, to the end. It doesn’t allow you to preview the questions, start with the answers you know, or go back to check your answers—strategies that usually work well in “normal” multiple choice exams. So what can you do?
When you prepare, do plenty of practice questions in exam conditions—without books, and with a timer.
Plan out the maximum amount of time you’ll give to each question. If you have an hour to tackle sixty multiple choice questions, for example, then you should aim to spend 1 minute on each question. Some you’ll know right away, but others will take a bit of thinking time; be prepared to stay on track.
Develop a plan for if/when you start feeling anxious or overwhelmed. See our resource on test anxiety for lots of great tips.
Set up a good workspace for yourself during your exam—somewhere you can be comfortable and concentrate, and that meets the requirements of the online exam. Gather all permitted resources (e.g., calculators, books, notes—ask your professor what’s allowed!). Let housemates/family members know when your exam is, so you won’t be disturbed.
Strategies for the test
Start the exam with a “brain dump.” Take 2-3 minutes to write down key information, equations, statistics, etc., that you believe will be important on a sheet of paper. This will help you remember them later and get your brain thinking about the topics.
When you read each question, cover up the answer choices with a card or your hand. (Even if it’s a question that relies on the answers to complete the question, this strategy is still helpful.) Doing this gives you some thinking space to understand the question before you see the answers.
Before you look at the answers, write down what you think the answer is. If it helps, write down important concepts or ideas that you need to use in your answer.
Then, check the answer choices: which one is closest to your answer? This process reduces your reliance on working memory: there’s no need to hold the answer in your head because it’s written down.
If you have no idea what the answer is, take a minute to write down anything you do know about the topic, or look again at your brain dump sheet. Re-read and analyze the question:
- What parts do you know; what parts don’t you know?
- Does what you know give you any clues about how to answer what you don’t know?
- Are there any absolute terms (“never,” “always”)?
Use this information to make decisions about the answer choices: which options can you eliminate? Which seem plausible, based on what you wrote down and your general knowledge of the course?
If you’re really stuck, take a moment to stop. Try the breathing exercises from our resource on test anxiety, and try to clear your mind. Don’t just hit next and move on: if you’ve planned to take 1 minute for every question, spend the whole minute. Even if you don’t get the answer, you’ll feel calmer for the next question.
Before you move on, try to eliminate any incorrect—or likely—incorrect answers, then guess. Even eliminating one answer from a possible four will boost your chances of guessing from 25% to 33%.
Once you’ve moved on to the next question, do your best to leave the previous one behind; don’t worry about whether you got it right, when what you need to do is focus on the question in front of you.
Good luck! For more help with preparing for and writing tests and exams, visit our website.