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“It’s A. No wait. It’s B”: Tips On Taking Multiple-Choice Tests

How many of you swear by sticking to your first answer when writing a multiple-choice exam? I have to admit, I feel rather iffy when I double (triple) check my answers and find that my initial answers might need some changing. Well, if you know what I’m talking about, you are not alone. Research suggests that the majority of students believe that changing their answers would result in a lower score (Mueller & Shwedel, 1975).

So is answer changing to be avoided? Two scholars called Mueller and Wasser (1977) looked into this idea and found that those who changed their initial answers scored higher than those who didn’t. Similarly, Vidler and Hansen (1980) found that of the 162 students they tested, 148 students changed their answers – and the vast majority of them went from wrong to right!

Bauer, Kopp, and Fischer (2007) report similar findings: their study revealed that students who were informed of the benefits of changing answers prior to taking the exam altered their answers more frequently and scored higher than those who weren’t informed. If you are a teacher, this suggests that a friendly reminder before exams might be beneficial in boosting your students’ grades, and if you’re a student, keeping this message at the back of your mind might come in handy!

So why is it that we hold strongly to the myth that we should stick with the first answer? A study conducted by Kruger, Wirtz, and Miller (2005) revealed that this is because the regret an individual experiences from changing a correct answer to a wrong one is greater than the regret felt from sticking to an initial answer that turned out to be wrong. I suppose this makes sense – the idea that you were nearly correct (I knew the answer!) may bother you more than if your answer was way off to begin with.

The take-home message isn’t necessarily to opt for changing every single answer in hopes of getting all of them correct. Rather, a sensible approach is to study well before the exam so that you can be confident with your answers in the first place. But of course, if upon reviewing your exam you feel unsure about some of your responses, changing your answers might not be a bad idea!

References:

Bauer, D., Kopp V., & Fischer M.R. (2007). Answer changing in multiple choice assessment change that answer in doubt – and spread the word! BMC Medical Education, 7(28), 1-5.

Kruger, J., Wirtz, D., & Miller, D.T. (2005). Counterfactual thinking and the first instinct fallacy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88(1), 725-735.

Mueller, D.J., & Shwedel, A. (1975). Some correlates of net gain resultant from answer changing on objective achievement test items. Journal of Educational Measurement, 12, 251-254.

Vidler, D., & Hansen, R. (1980). Answer changing on multiple-choice tests. Journal of Experimental Education, 49, 18-20.

Moeka Komachi

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