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How to Outperform on Multiple Choice Exams? Tips for SAT, GRE, GMAT, Bocconi Test, and all MC Exams

Updated: Apr 5, 2022

Multiple choice (MC) exams definitely need specific preparation. These tips will help you prepare better for your MC exam and avoid some common mistakes.

1. Multiple choice exams are all about training, not learning.

This is the most important fact you need to understand for success on MC exams. Of course, you need knowledge to answer a question. However, knowledge is never a sufficient condition of a true answer on MC exams. Instead, most of your wrong answers are due to a lack of sufficient training. As you solve certain types of questions many times, the probability of committing errors decreases.

To understand this tip better, imagine yourself as a sprinter. A sprinter, of course, has a theoretical knowledge about what they do. By theoretical knowledge, I mean, the right position in the start, when to reach maximum speed, how to reach the maximum speed, etc. But, is it the theoretical knowledge that makes a sprinter win a competition? Of course not! It is endless and patient training that brings a sprinter success. So, think about solving the same types of questions each day as your daily training, comparable to preparing for a sprinting competition. The more you train, the better results you get.

2. Have ambitious goals and a Plan B.

Of course, you must have your ideal goals for your MC exam. Without an ambitious goal, how will you find the necessary motivation to study and increase your score? However, an ambitious goal without a Plan B will most likely lead to exam anxiety, which is the greatest enemy of success in MC exams. Plan B is a viable plan that you can willingly accept if you do not obtain your desired score.

-I aim to get at least 1500 on the SAT.

-Very good! What if you do not?

-I don’t know.

This is not a good response. The pressure of not knowing what you will do in the worst-case scenario can cause exam anxiety, which we do not want at all.

-I aim to get at least 1500 on the SAT.

-Very good! What if you do not?

-I can get 1300 on my worst day, and I can get an acceptance to one of the schools I want with a 1300. That school is not bad. I can happily go there.

This is better. Saying that does not mean that you have given up on your goals. It means that you are mentally prepared for the worst-case scenario, which will definitely increase the chances of reaching your goals.

3. The best time management is to not think about time during the MC exams.

This is very important. Time management is something you need to improve through training, not by forcing yourself to be faster or slower. Suppose you finish 50 questions in 100 minutes, while you will have 75 minutes in the actual test. If you push yourself to finish in 75 minutes, you will definitely have many more wrong answers. Please don’t do that. Just train more, solve more questions, and increase your pace. You cannot finish an MC exam in a shorter period of time voluntarily. I mean, you can, but it will cost you many wrong answers.

The other side of the same common mistake is trying to solve MC questions slower to avoid mistakes. I’ve even seen this recommended in some “MC exam tip videos”. This is wrong; don’t do it. Careless errors are not due to going faster than you must; they are due to insufficient training. When you try to be slower to avoid careless errors, you think about time, not about the question in front of you. And that is something you should not do.

To sum up, do not think about time in an MC exam. Each person requires a natural amount of time to finish the exam, and that is the best option for them. You can improve that natural amount only by training, not by trying to be faster or slower. A student of mine recently asked if they should check the time after every question. I responded by explaining that doing that would be the worst thing they could do. You cannot solve your time problem during the MC exam. It must have been solved long before, during your preparations. Can you imagine an athlete checking the time board in the middle of a sprinting competition?

4. Take complete mock exams rather than topic tests.

How you train for your MC exam is also important. Some students tend to think that they must first solve all topics tests and learn every single informational detail that they may face during the exam before they begin solving mock exams. This is incorrect! First, no one will ever learn every piece of knowledge contained in most MC exams. You will always face some questions that require some amount of guessing in order to reach the correct answer. Second, you can learn just as well by solving mock exams. In fact, you can learn more by solving mock exams than by solving questions on the same topic again and again. In addition, mock exams give you an exam score prediction, allow you to improve your exam tactics, and familiarize you with what you will experience on the actual exam day. Hence, you should start taking mock exams as soon as possible, take many of them, do not be afraid of getting low scores, and enjoy the improvements in your score as you train more.

5. Stop worrying about your exam results.

You’re already working with a range of possible exam results, and that range should be moving upwards as you train more and more. Thinking more about your results will not improve them. Hence, stop thinking and worrying about your exam results. If you’re training with mock exams, you already know the distribution. Try to think of each exam, including mock exams, as a collection of separate questions. All you need to do is work through that collection one by one, as if you are doing that just for fun.

As the exam date approaches, consider forbidding yourself from talking about the exam result or any outcome related to it. Try to focus on the questions, not the score.

6. Leave harder questions for later.

I think this is the most obvious one. In your mock exams and the actual test, do not get stuck on a single question. If you’re struggling to figure it out, move on. If you have time left, you can go back and try solving it at the end. Solving the easier ones first will improve your confidence and lower your stress level.

7. Try to make educated guesses.

You will never know everything on an MC exam. There will always be answers that you are unsure of. Don’t feel bad about that; it is pretty standard. Try to guess the answer as best as possible. Try to think like the person who prepared the question. Trust your instincts. If you feel that an answer is correct, don’t hesitate; choose that answer. Of course, the quality of your guesses will improve the more you train.

Why do I Give You These Tips?

Turkey is a country of MC exams. Nationwide MC exams determined which secondary school, which high school, and which department of which university I could get into. I obtained nationwide success in all of them (top 40 in the last two). Another MC exam got me a government scholarship to study abroad. A GRE Quantitative score of 800 was a significant part of my acceptance to the Tinbergen Institute’s MPhil program. I developed the tactics I share here during those years of great success in highly competitive MC exams. Last year, I started tutoring students for the Bocconi test, and, of course, we talked a lot about these tips. Hence, I thought they might be useful for many more students.

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