Question Types

Secrets to answering different types of questions on tests

To earn high marks on a test, you must do three things: study the material, find out what kind of test it is, and learn effective test taking strategies. Some strategies are general and apply to all tests while others will help you with specific types of questions.

General Test-Taking Strategies

First, make sure to read the instructions carefully before you begin the test. Many students are in such a rush, they neglect to read exactly what has to be done. As a result, they end up doing more or less than they need to do. They may omit questions, skip sections, or provide a written answer that does not answer the question at all.

Next, check how many questions there are and the maximum points for each one. If you are doing a standardized test, you may know this information in advance. If time is short, answer the questions that are worth the most marks.

Before the test, familiarize yourself with the most common terms used in test questions. Knowing exactly what they mean will enable you to write the correct type of answer for a higher score. These terms include: describe, prove, review, explain, compare, compare and contrast, contrast, illustrate, diagram, discuss, state, list, summarize, outline, define, and many more. Remember that to compare means to write about the similarities and differences of two things. To contrast means to only write about the differences. When asked to illustrate, you are not expected to sketch, draw, or paint. You are being asked to give examples.

Sometimes the question requires you to include your own opinion of the facts. You can presume this when you see the following words: justify, evaluate, criticize, or interpret.

Divide your time reasonably so you can complete the entire exam. Doing extremely well in one part and then leaving out an entire question won’t help you much. Make sure to stay for the entire exam, even if you think you cannot do any more. Some answers may come to you and get you a higher grade.

If you don’t lose points for incorrect answers, take your best guess on the most difficult questions. You may be able to pick up a few extra points.

Some students prefer to answer the easy questions first so that they can gain a sense of confidence and accomplishment.

Specific Test-taking Strategies

Multiple-Choice Questions

In a multiple-choice test, you are asked a question or given a statement, followed by three or four possible answers. You need to choose one. Here’s an example of a typical question on a multiple choice test:

    Who wrote Macbeth?

  • George Bernard Shaw
  • Shakespeare
  • T.S. Eliot
  • None of the above

In this case, the correct answer is “b” – Shakespeare.

Sometimes, all of the answers are correct. In such a case, the last choice will read “all of the above”. Here’s an example:

Which of the following statements applies to Washington DC?

  • It’s the capital of the USA
  • It’s where the White House is located.
  • It’s a city.
  • All of the above.

As soon as you are sure that at least two answers are true, it is likely that the third is also true, in which case you can choose the last option, “all of the above”. On the other hand, if you are sure one of the answers is wrong, but thing more than one of the rest is true, you need to examine things carefully.

Another type of multiple choice question is the negative question. The negative question is characterized by the word “except”. Or “not”. Read such questions carefully to understand what exactly you are bring asked. Negative questions may look like this: “Each of the following is a cause of World War II except…” or “ Which of the following is NOT a cause of World War II?

Here are additional tips for doing well on multiple-choice tests:

  • Complete the easy questions first, if possible.
  • Don’t rush through the main part of the “stem” of the question for it is the key to choosing the right answer.
  • Rule out what’s clearly wrong.
  • Choose the answer that seems most likely.
  • Check to see if any of the answer choices are grammatically incorrect and therefore incompatible. Rule out these possibilities.

True or False Questions

This common test question provides a series of statements. You must evaluate each statement and say whether it is true or false. A variation on this format is a yes / no answer. This type of test question checks your knowledge of any kind of subject. Occasionally, the true-false question is based on information provided in a reading passage. In this case, you must read the text carefully to ensure that you are choosing the answer based on the writer’s views and opinions and not your own. Sometimes you’ll also have to give a short explanation.

True-False tests are similar to multiple choice tests except that you have only two alternatives to choose from, so you can use many of the same strategies. A few additional points to bear in mind:

  • Longer statements tend to be truer than shorter statements.
  • If in doubt, choose true.
  • Statements with strong definitive language such as always, never, all, or none are usually false.
  • Statements with less definitive language and more general vocabulary such as usually, probably, could or might are usually true.
  • Make sure the entire statement is true. If even one tiny part is incorrect, the statement is false.

Matching Questions

In a matching question, you have to match words, expressions, or sentences from one column with related phrases in another column. Matching questions are often used to evaluate your knowledge of vocabulary, historical events, or scientific discoveries. Some tips:

  • Cross out answer choices after you have used them, to save time and avoid unnecessary duplication.
  • Sometimes, both columns have the same number of items. In others, one column may have more items than the other. Count both columns to make sure. Start with the shorter column if necessary.
  • To save time, reread as little as possible. For example, if one column has vocabulary words and the other column has definitions, read the first definition and run through the vocabulary words to find the right match. Then go on the next definition. This way you only read and reread the vocabulary words, rather than reviewing the definitions, which would take much longer.

Essay Questions

Essay exams evaluate not only your knowledge but also your ability to organize and present that information in a written manner. By following some simple steps you can learn how to develop any kind of essay answer. The following tips will help you raise your grades:

  • Always take a few minutes to plan before beginning to write your essay.
  • Use time to brainstorm as much as possible so you have the maximum material to include in your essay.
  • Remember the opening paragraph is the most important in your entire essay. It sets the tone for your essay and lets the examiner know the quality of the answer to follow. Like any first impression, it should be the best you can give.
  • The conclusion is the second most important paragraph in your essay as it makes the final impression, which should be as powerful as possible.
  • Once you begin writing, get directly to the key points, especially if time is limited. Don’t waste time on unnecessarily long introductions. You don’t want to run out of time and discover that you didn’t get in all the points that were asked for.
  • Match the focus of your essay to the focus of the exam question. Explain the connection if necessary for added clarity and to let the examiner know you’ve understood the nature of the task.
  • Read the question carefully to understand all you’re being asked to do. Look for key descriptive words such as discuss, compare, summarize, outline or define to help you know exactly what you’re being asked to do.
  • Look for added details requested in the essay question. For example, are you begin asked to give example, reasons, or definitions? Then, make sure you do in order to get full marks.
  • Read samples of good essays to familiarize yourself with effective writing techniques.
  • Try to follow the same patterns and adopt any useful transition language to make strong connections between words, sentences, and paragraphs.
  • Build your vocabulary so you can use dynamic verbs and unusual adjectives. This will help your essay stand out from the rest. However, make sure you include any key vocabulary associated with the subject or field, to sound professional and knowledgeable.

Fill in the Blank

In these questions, you need to find the missing word or expression that would correctly complete a sentence or correctly answer a question. Write in or find the information that makes the sentence or questions true. The missing information may be found in the main points or supporting details of your textbook. Fill in the blank questions may appear in the form of a multiple choice question or require you to write in the answer. Make sure the missing information is grammatically and factually correct.

Where _______ you from?

  • is
  • being
  • are
  • none of the above

The answer is c.

The capital of Canada is ________________.

You must write “Ottawa”.

Some clues to answering fill-in-the-blank questions:

  • Answer what you can, or go on to other questions. You may find the answers in other questions.
  • If you are not penalized for wrong answers, always write or choose an answer. You may get it right, or even be awarded a partial mark for an answer that is close to the correct one.

Combination Exams

For a combined objective and essay exam, there are various approaches. Some students prefer to do the multiple-choice or true and false questions first to build confidence and get them out of the way first. Others brainstorm the essays, then do the objective sections and then return to writing the essay. This gives your subconscious mind time to generate further ideas while you’re working on other parts of the test.