## Friday, November 4, 2016

### Testwiseness (Part One)

The best way to do well on a test is to know the answers. However, when faced with a question you cannot answer, these tricks will sometimes work on poorly written multiple-choice tests. Only use them if you do not know the answer and have to guess.

1. When you have to complete a sentence, see if one of the answers fits better grammatically than the others.

23. A dog is an
A) animal
B) machine
C) mineral
D) vegetable

In this question, the “an” gives you a clue to the right answer, because you know the correct answer has to start with a vowel. “An animal” works, but it would have to be “a machine” or “a mineral” or “a vegetable” to be a correct sentence. Since the question says “a dog is an” rather than “a dog is a”, the answer has to be “animal” — because “animal” is the only one that fits with the “an” in the question.

2. See if one of the answers is stated in more "textbook language" than the others.
3. Instructors sometimes write questions by quoting a statement right out of the textbook, using the first half as the "question" and the second half as the correct "answer". Then they have to invent 3 wrong answers in their own words. Sometimes it is possible to identify which answers are in the textbook's style, and which in the instructor's.

4. See if one of the answers repeats key words from the question.

43. An example of a nuclear reaction is
A) hydration
B) combustion
C) sublimination
D) nuclear fission

Even if you do not know what the question means, the answer is probably (D) because it repeats the word “nuclear”, which is a key word in the question.

5. See if one of the answers is much longer than the others.

The person making the test wants the right answer to be inarguably correct. To make it inarguably correct, they sometimes add more details to the correct answer, making it much longer than the others.

45. The freezing point of water is
B) 0 degrees Fahrenheit
C) 0 degrees Kelvin
D) 0 degrees centigrade for pure water at sea level

6. See if one of the answers sticks out as the “odd one out”.

Since there is only one correct answer to a question, that answer has to be different from the other answers. Consequently, if you see two or three answers that all mean the same thing, they must be the wrong answers.

A) Boy
B) Girl
C) Son

Since “Boy”, “Son”, and “Lad” all mean roughly the same thing, chances are the answer is “Girl”, even if we do not know what the question is.

This trick is dangerous, however. Sometimes the “odd one out” can fool you. Maybe the answer was “Son” because it is the only answer about family relationships. But this trick might help if you are guessing blind anyway.

7. If you have to guess, and spot a typing error in one of the answers, choose one of the other answers.

Sometimes the instructor making a multiple-choice test will proofread it by reading the question, looking at the right answer, and going on to the next question. They may forget to proof the wrong answers. So if there is an error, it is more likely to be a wrong answer. (This trick used to work better before spell-checking software became common, but not all instructors avail themselves of spell checking, and you can still check for homonyms.)

8. If you have to guess, eliminate answers with unconditional words like "always" or "never".

In the real world, it is usually possible to find one or two exceptions to every rule, so answers with unconditional statements in them like "never" or "always" are usually the wrong answer (except in math or science where absolutes are possible). Similarly, for the same reason, weasel words like "approximately", "often", "usually", sometimes indicate a correct answer.

9. In questions where "all of the above" is used, see if you can eliminate one of the answers; or if you can identify two of the answers as correct.

If two answers are correct, "all of the above" must be correct. If any one of the other answers is clearly wrong, "all of the above" must be wrong. By eliminating "all of the above" along with the wrong answer, you are now down to choosing out of two answers, and so have a 50/50 chance of getting the question right just by guessing.

10. In questions where "none of the above" is used, choose "none of the above".

On tests where "none of the above" is only used occasionally, it is often the right answer. Even when it is not correct, it is often possible to argue for it by demonstrating some inadequacy in each of the other answers, thus making "none of the above" correct by default.

11. If you have absolutely no idea what the answer is, choose ‘(C)’.

Instructors often try to “hide” the correct answer in the middle of the wrong answers. So they unconsciously choose (C) for the correct answer more often than any other letter. [A few instructors habitually choose B instead, If they are using a computer program or test bank, however, this may not work, since computers are usually programmed to randomize the placement of the correct answer.