The Process of Elimination and Using the Power of Choice to Your Advantage
Multiple choice questions can make or break your test scores if you don’t know how to approach them. Most people understand the concept of the process of elimination, but they forget a key part of actually making it effective. It isn’t about picking between the two best choices. Sure, that’s part of it, but you can harness this tool to where it becomes more than a lucky guess. It can become a skilled choice. But first, you should understand what makes multiple choice questions difficult in the first place.
Structure of the Question
When you get to the SAT, ACT, or licensing exam, questions aren’t as straight forward as they were in junior high. Questions are often structured in a manner that asks you to find the “best response” given certain information. If this information is true and that information is true, then this information CAN or CANNOT be true. Which conclusions can you draw? If it sounds confusing, that’s because it is. These tests often structure their questions in a manner that forces you to scrutinize information and give your critical or analytical reasoning skills a workout.
If you expect these tactics ahead of time, it can be a big wakeup call on test day.
Confusing the Objective
In most exams of a collegiate or professional nature, the multiple choice question will host four or five responses. For tests like the GRE and GMAT, those responses can be two or three lines each in themselves. By the time you’ve muddled through all this information, you’ve taken in a lot of words, most of them false or misleading, in an effort to pinpoint the response that best answers the question.
Meanwhile, all the selections — right and wrong — are bouncing back and forth inside your head confusing the objective the question is asking you to accomplish.
Beating the Clock
Some multiple choice questions can get quite lengthy. Even with the process of elimination in effect — even with five responses whittled down to two — you are still in a race against time to finish the section before the proctor pulls the plug. Unfortunately for many test-takers, the previous difficulties have a way of fooling one into thinking that all that’s left to do is pick between two responses.
After all, you had to read the question and read through each response. If there is only 45 minutes on this section, and you’re only on number two, then the choice you make may really be a 50/50 guess. And the bad thing about 50/50 is that 50 percent of the time, it’s wrong. Until 50 percent becomes an above average score, it’s the last thing you want on a test that may have cost you more than $100 to take and your entire future could depend on.
Forgetting the Question
Why is it that when you have only two options left, the question gets harder instead of easier? You’ve done so much work to narrow down your options. Shouldn’t the next step be the easiest in the process of elimination? If only. The right answer isn’t going to jump out at you no matter how much you stare back and forth. It’s not going to happen because you’re probably making the same mistake we all have at some point. You’re forgetting the question. No one can blame you after navigating a long setup and two or three intentionally misleading responses.
You’ve used up the mojo you had at the start of the question, and now you’re left with two choices that sound like they could be the right answer. But instead of accepting this fate and resorting to eenie meenie minie moe, take charge (again) by re-reading what is being asked of you. It only takes a few seconds and it can make a world of difference, improving your odds from 50/50 to what they should really be, given that you’ve made it this far. (Around 60 percent to 75 percent, for you mathematicians.)
How to Recharge the Process of Elimination
So how do you get the process of elimination to work to your advantage? You start by reading the question. Then, you skim over the responses quickly removing all the obvious falsities. (No, O.J. Simpson did not kill the king with a dagger, it was someone Shakespearean.)
Once you’ve de-cluttered the question, you can really move in for a closer reading. But before you decide to make that pick, pause for a moment, pick your eyes back up, and re-read that question. Chances are you’ve forgotten what you were originally trying to solve. Take the time to re-learn it before making your final selection. Only use the blind guess when you absolutely have to. Those situations might include having too many questions remaining for the time you have left and maybe having the knowledge to spot an obvious fake but a deficient understanding of the topic as a whole.
Be very careful when determining what you know and what you don’t, though. Tests may be frustrating and intimidating environments, but you know more than you’re giving yourself credit for. Remember that this isn’t Mr. Jones’ math class. You’re not just trying to “get finished” so you can think about other things.
If you’re a high school student taking the SAT, it’s what could determine the school you go to and the amount of non-loan financial aid you receive. If you’re taking the GRE, it’s the difference between a prestigious grad school and one that people ignore. Teaching license you’re after? You won’t get there if your score doesn’t measure up.
These tests, one and all, are worth the extra bit of effort that you give to them. All too often, students allow their enthusiasm and knowledge to be eroded by the testing environment and the architecture of the question and responses before them. Don’t be that test-taker. Be the one who understands that a 50/50 chance isn’t as good as a 70/30 or even a 60/40.
By giving yourself every advantage in using the process of elimination, those numbers will rise.