Answering Objective Test Questions
Objective test questions require you to choose from two or more answers. They include multiple choice questions, true/false questions, and matching questions. You only have to recognize accurate information, so you’ll probably find them easier than subjective questions that ask you to produce information. You still must carefully prepare for them, however, and use good test taking strategies.
Here are some hints to help you with these kinds of questions:
1. Pay attention to key words in the question.
One of my students recently gave me a great example of the importance of this. Here is a test question that he answered incorrectly:
The respiratory center in the brainstem is NOT significantly affected by which situation?
A. high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood
B. high levels of hydrogen ions in the blood
C. low levels of oxygen molecules in the blood
The correct answer was C, but this student chose B. After I graded and returned the exams, he brought his textbook to me and showed me where it said that the brainstem is very sensitive to high levels of hydrogen ions in the blood. He totally missed the word NOT, even though it was capitalized.
It will help if you slow yourself down a little and underline, circle, or highlight key words in the question. If my student had done so, and circled the word NOT, he probably would have answered this question correctly. Some professors don’t let you write on an exam as they use them again and want to save paper. That, of course, knocks that strategy out. If that’s the case, you might want to rewrite a difficult question on scratch paper, underlining or circling its key words.
2. Read all the choices and eliminate the ones you know can’t be correct.
Here’s an example of this:
What is a waste product that is normally excreted in urine?
A. excess glucose
B. excess protein
C. red blood cells
If you already know that glucose, protein, and red blood cells shouldn’t be in urine, you can be sure that urea is the correct choice even if you don’t remember anything about that substance.
3. Use your common sense.
You can often reason your way through an answer. Take a look at the question below.
What is a common consequence of aging on the digestive system?
A. The liver tends to get larger.
B. Peristalsis tends to speed up.
C. Peptic ulcers become more common.
D. The liver metabolizes drugs and alcohol more quickly.
You know that aging usually brings negative changes to the body. The only choice that’s clearly negative is C, since it’s never a good thing to have an ulcer. So, even though you might not know the answer to this question, guessing that C is correct would be reasonable. It is, in fact, the correct choice.
4. When a question overwhelms you, ask yourself, “What do I know about this topic?”
Here is a more difficult question that can be answered using that technique.
When the amount of salt in the blood increases, what happens to the amount of water in the blood and how does this affect blood pressure?
A. Both the amount of water in the blood and blood pressure increase.
B. Both the amount of water in the blood and blood pressure decrease.
C. The amount of water in blood increases and blood pressure decreases.
D. The amount of water in the blood decreases and blood pressure increases.
This question has two parts, so it’s tricky. However, a student in a physiology course probably knows that where salt goes, water follows, so he can figure out that the amount of water in the blood increases if the amount of salt does. He also probably knows that adding more water to a blood vessel increases its blood pressure. Thus, the correct answer is A. To unlock that knowledge, though, the question, “What do I know about this topic?” can really help.
5. In true/false questions, know that the entire statement must be true for an answer to be true.
If just one word in the statement is false, then the whole question is false. Absolute words like “all”, “never,” “only,” “always,” and “none” often mean the answer is false because of exceptions to a rule. Words like “some, “may”, “might”, and “can,” often mean the answer is true because exceptions to a statement that is usually false might be possible.
Here are two examples of what I mean:
All males have one X and one Y chromosome in their 23rd set of chromosomes. T or F
This question is False because, although it is rare, some males have two X’s and one Y in their 23rd set of chromosomes, resulting in a condition called Kleinfelter syndrome. It’s False because of the word “All”.
Some females do not have two X’s in their 23rd set of chromosomes. T or F
This question is true because, although it is rare, some females have only one X chromosome instead of two in their 23rd set of chromosomes. It’s true because of the word “Some”.
6. For matching questions, work from the side with the most words and first mark the answers you know for sure.
It will be faster for you if you have fewer words to scan when looking for the correct answer. You’ll also increase your speed if you eliminate the choices you know for sure. Mark through them so they don’t distract you as you make the more difficult choices.
7. Unless you’ll lose points for wrong answers, which is unlikely, make educated guesses for those questions you don’t know.
Your guess is more likely to be correct if you’ve eliminated obviously wrong answers. Also, ask yourself the question, “Does my answer make sense?” Just talking to yourself this way can help you make logical choices. Remember, if you don’t answer a question, you’ll get it wrong for sure.
8. Check your answers if you have time, but don’t change them unless you have a very good reason.
If someone gave me a dollar for every time a student told me, “I had the correct answer, but I changed it,” I’d have a nice sum of money. It’s okay to change your answer if you know why your first choice was incorrect, but if you are just guessing, it’s usually best to trust your first instinct.
This post is a sample from my book, “College Success Now!”
Holly Trimble, MS, LPT