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Test-Taking Skills 101: Multiple-Choice Item Strategies

By  Jul 30, 2008

Topics: Certification

Because Single Answer Multiple Choice (SAMC) and Multiple Answer Multiple Choice (MAMC) items comprise the vast majority of IT certification exams available nowadays, it makes sense for us to address this item type specifically.

Tactic: Before Reading the Item Stem, First Analyze the Answer Choice Set To Identify Patterns

When you confront an SAMC or MAMC item, the first thing that you should do is to parse the answer choice set and look for any obvious patterns.

Another solid justification for reading the answer choices first is that you know before reading the item stem (which could be wordy and cumbersome) what specific tasks/concepts/technologies you are dealing with.

What do I mean by this statement? Well, some IT certification exam items (Microsoft MCSE exams in particular) present multi-paragraph item stems that sometimes are sometimes rife with 'fluff' that has no bearing on the question and ultimately the correct answer(s).

For example, if you see that all four answer choices in an item deal with how to perform a full/differential backup scheme in Microsoft SQL Server 2005, then you can read the item stem critically with this 'end result' knowledge in the forefront of your mind.

Stated another way, by parsing the answer set first, you are better equipped to analyze the item scenario and constraint(s) presented in the item stem.

When I speak of "patterns" in the answer set, do I mean that multiple-choice answer sets might follow a predictable pattern of A-B-C-D throughout the exam? Absolutely not. Please don't read into that old test-taker's chestnut that advises:

"If all else fails, choose response (b) or (c). Many instructors subconsciously feel that the correct answer is "hidden" better if it is surrounded by distractors."

Hogwash. Perhaps unskilled exam developers resort to such petty parlor tricks, but, and large, IT certification exam writers are pros. Therefore, you should never expect to find predictable patterns in multiple-choice items.

Don't buy into the hype that would lead you to believe there is a 'method' to exam developers' madness in terms of which answer choice in a multiple-choice item is correct. Believe me, there is no hidden 'formula' for you to divine. You waste valuable time that is better spent analyzing the item's concepts when you ponder this nonsense.

Nonetheless, SAMC and MAMC items oftentimes do employ particular patterns with respect to their phraseology. In my next post we will examine some of these phraseology patterns.

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