A Guide to Common Test Questions

Whether you’re taking a unit test, final exam, or standardized test, you’re likely to be faced with a variety of question types. Just as you might have your own study style, you might have your own preferences when it comes to different kinds of test questions, as each one has its own tricks. Here are some clever tip-offs to the following most common test question types:

1. Multiple choice

When faced with a multiple choice question, be sure to read the question completely, as well as all the answer choices—don’t select one without reading all of them first! Even though you might feel like you know the answer already and want to save time, it’s best to read all of them because the difference between right and wrong may be in the nuances. Make sure to read for negative or positive signifiers, like “none of the above” or “all of the above,” as they could completely change what you’re looking for. The process of elimination is an excellent strategy for multiple choice questions—rule out choices that seem obviously wrong, then reread the rest carefully, looking for completeness of answer. If you’re still stuck, take an educated guess. Be sure to know how (or if) you will be penalized for wrong answers; if you won’t be penalized, guessing can only help you and thus can take up less of your time.

2. Fill in the blank

For these questions, you’ll be asked to fill in a keyword or phrase. Read the question carefully, aloud if you’re able to. Look closely at the wording of the sentence/question for grammatical hints, like whether the blank should be a noun or verb (i.e. articles like “a” or “an” would signify that the blank is a noun). Like multiple choice questions, try not to leave the answer blank. Even if you don’t feel confident in your answer, try to write something down, as partial credit may be awarded even if you describe the concept in a long-winded way. If you’re given a word bank, try out different words in the blank and compare to see what sounds best; the sound of the word may help jog your memory.

3. True/false

With true/false questions, you’ll need simply need to decide whether a statement is accurate or not. Be sure to notice qualifiers like all, only, never, and always. Sentences that include these words, because they are extreme, are sometimes false. On the flipside, look out for words like usually, sometimes, generally, and often, which can often signify truth. Make sure you look for negative words like no and not, that can trip up your understanding of the meaning. Also, be sure to read the question in its entirety to make sure all parts are true, or all parts are false, in order to answer the question as such. Watch out for trick questions where a statement may only be partially true, in which case, the answer would typically be “false.” Lastly, take comfort in the fact that if you guess, you have a 50/50 chance of getting the answer right!

4. Short answer

Short answer questions generally require you to answer in a sentence or just a few sentences. Looking at how detailed the question is, as well as how much space you’re given to respond, you can likely figure out approximately how long your answer should be. Make sure you answer all parts of the question, and if you’re not completely sure, write as much as you know and can think of. Short answers often do receive partial credit and are graded on a scale rather than as completely right or wrong.

5. Essay question

Essay questions ask you to write at least a paragraph, and often several paragraphs with an intro, a body, and a conclusion. To answer an essay question successfully, first read the question carefully, marking keywords to make sure you address all required parts. Focus in on the verbs, such as “agree/disagree,” “compare,” or “persuade,” as they inform the tone in which you’ll write. Be sure to know how much time you’re allotted to write the essay and then budget accordingly. It’s a great idea to jot down notes and a quick outline so you know where you’re headed and can write more efficiently. Save time so you can do a brief edit of your essay at the end, but if you run out of time, consider quickly writing out any final thoughts in list format, as it’ll at least demonstrate to your teacher where you wanted to go, even if you may not receive full credit for it.

Keep in mind the above tips as you encounter different test questions, which can even help you as you study beforehand. Sometimes, if you get stuck during a test, other questions and answers can help you decipher the ones you’re not sure about—they can give you different information or help jog your memory. Overall, be sure to pace yourself and check your answers!