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Key Study Skills

Exam techniques : Answering multi-choice and short answer questions

This page provides a range of ideas about answering multi-choice and short answer questions in exams.

Multi-choice questions

Multi-choice questions

  • Do not read all the questions through first. You will waste much less time if you just read each question as you come to it.
  • Read all the alternatives. The first answer may be a good answer but it may not be the best answer.
  • If you do not know the answer, eliminate those that are definitely wrong and then select your best guess (unless there is a penalty for incorrect answers).
  • Do not spend long working out the answer. Keep in mind how much the question is worth.
  • Do not change answers for questions you have already completed unless you can see an obvious mistake. In most cases your first choice is more likely to be correct.

Short answer questions

Answering Short Answer Questions in Exams

  • Make clear and concise points
  • Keep answers short:  usually 2-3 sentences or a short paragraph.
  • Even if you are unsure of the answer, write something! It’s better to get a few marks than nothing at all.
  • If you don’t have enough time, list points or write in note form.
  • It’s helpful to make notes before you answer the question.
  • Read the question carefully at least two times and pay attention to the instruction words (for example list, describe, compare)
  • Identify the parts of the question and what steps are required to answer the question.

Chase the marks - use the number of marks for a question to guide you in terms of how many points are required for each question. In general, if a question is worth 3 marks then you would expect to make 3 points.

Example question

There are two articles used in the English language.  Identify them, define their purpose and explain briefly how they are used.  Give examples. (8 marks)

This question has four parts which the four instruction words (identify, define, explain and give examples) make clear.

In order to get full marks (8) you would need to:

  • Identify the two articles (that is, name them)
  • Define their purpose (that is, say what an article does)
  • Explain how they are used
  • Give examples of each article in a sentence

Sample answer:

The two articles are the indefinite article “a” and the definite article “the”. Articles show whether the noun refers to something definite or indefinite. The definite article shows that the noun refers to a particular example of something, for example, She is in the garden. The indefinite article shows that the noun refers to something general or something which has not been referred to by the speaker, for example, I’m thinking of getting a dog.