As test-takers, we’ve all encountered difficult questions and questions we just don’t know the answer to. We’ve also come across questions whose answers seem to be at the tip of our tongue, but we just can’t decide between two or more choices. Here are some strategies you can use that will help you eliminate multiple-choice answer choices in smart and effective ways.
1. Reread to better understand the question
Before eliminating any answer choices, make sure you understand the question to the best of your ability. If you’re able to, highlight, underline, and/or circle key words in the question to make sure you don’t miss any significant parts. Look for words like “not” or “except” that would flip the entire meaning of a question. In addition, look for possible answer choices like “all of the above” and “none of the above.” Knowing the question, as well as the layout of your answers, can help you better understand what to look for and prevent careless mistakes.
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2. Take away any obviously wrong answers
Begin by eliminating any answers that you just know are wrong. This may not happen in every case; sometimes you’re not sure if any choices are wrong, and that’s okay. If you do, though, take advantage of mentally or physically crossing said answer(s) out on the page. This will help you focus solely on the remaining answers and increase your chances of choosing the right answer from those still left.
3. Look for absolutes
Check your answer choices for words like “never,” “all,” “every,” “always,” or “none.” These are likely not to be the correct answer. This is not to say that every answer that includes absolute words is incorrect (so keep on a lookout!), it’s more that they often do not allow for subtlety or complexity as other answers often do, and they can be extreme.
4. Check for unrelated or extreme information
In the same breath, you’ll want to look for answer choices that are outliers. If the answer choice seems like a true statement, great—but make sure it is definitely related to the question. Sometimes, writers of tests can trick students into choosing an answer that seems correct, but has little to do with the question. At the same time, look for answers that offer extreme information. Often, there’s one answer choice that seems very different from the rest. This one is often incorrect, as tests are more about having you discern between a few very similar answer choices, rather than choosing one obviously right answer.
5. Use information from other questions to help
If you’ve already eliminated one or more choices, but are still not sure which of the remaining is correct, skip and come back. Sometimes, later questions can illuminate this one question you’re struggling with. A reading passage or even an answer choice from a different question can offer information that can help you, or at the very least, jog your memory.
When you’re struggling with how to eliminate multiple-choice answer choices, don’t fret! As calmly as you can, begin eliminating answers. Keep in mind that some tests do not penalize you for wrong answers (like the new 2016 SAT), while other tests deduct points (or a fraction of points) from wrong answers, so that can help you decide whether to make an educated guess or leave a question blank. Good luck!