Home > Blogs > Test-Taking Skills 101: Multiple-Choice Item Strategies, Part 2

Test-Taking Skills 101: Multiple-Choice Item Strategies, Part 2

By  Aug 1, 2008

Topics: Certification

In my last installment of this series, I shared with you some general tactics for approaching multiple-choice items in IT certification exams. In this essay I will provide you with some more specific guidance.

The A-A-A-A Pattern

What I call the A-A-A-A Pattern presents a set of answer choices that share the same basic text and differ only by a word or two. Look at the following example so you can see what I mean:

A. Replace the failed disk and regenerate the disk.

B. Replace the failed disk and reformat the disk.

C. Replace the failed disk and reinitialize the disk.

D. Replace the failed disk and reboot the server.

When I analyze this answer choice set I immediately say to myself "Okay. The correct answer here obviously involves replacing the failed disk, because all four answer choices say this. Therefore, does the scenario lead me to conclude that I must regenerate, reformat, reinitialize, or reboot?"

An enormous factor in your text-taking success hinges upon your ability to separate the proverbial 'wheat from the chaff' when reading exam items. That is to say, you must hone your skills at cutting through extraneous 'fluff' text and focusing on the relevant information.

The A/B-A/B Pattern

I think that the most effective way for me to introduce what I term the A/B-A/B Pattern is to provide you with a representative example:

A. On Server01, reactivate the hard disks.

B. On Server 02, reactivate the hard disks.

C. On Server 01, replace the hard disks.

D. On Server 02, replace the hard disks.

Do you see the 'see-sawing' that goes on in this answer choice set? In other words, you see that each answer choice is divided into two parts. The best advice that I have to offer for tackling the A/B-A/B item pattern is as follows:

  1. Look at the first part of the answer choices and decide which of the two possible paths is correct. In the previous example, I would ask myself "Do I want to perform this action on Server01 or Server02, given the constraints outlined in the item stem?" Once you have made your choice, you are then able to dismiss two of the four answer choices immediately.
  2. Now focus on the second half of the two remaining answer choices and use deductive reasoning in order to select the correct answer. For instance, in this example my thoughts might run along the lines of, "I know that I have to perform this action on Server02. Should I therefore reactivate or replace the hard disk?"

The A-A-A-C Pattern

The A-A-A-C Pattern is what I call the "odd one out" answer choice pattern. Look at the following example:

A. Instruct the user to reboot her computer.

B. Instruct the user to reinstall the application.

C. Instruct the user to submit a help desk ticket.

D. Visit the user personally and resolve the problem.

In this case your thinking might fall along one of two lines:

1. Choice D must be incorrect because it is worded very differently from the other three answer choices.

2. Choice D must be correct because it is the 'odd one out.'

In fact, both of these suppositions are dead wrong. My best advice to you in this case is to give all answer choices equal consideration and resist the tendency to focus on the 'odd one out' aspect of the item. In my experience, the 'odd one out' is just as likely to be correct as incorrect.

Again, any test developer worth his or her salt doesn't rely upon cheap instructional design "tricks" intended to confuse the test-taker (although, admittedly, it may appear that way in some IT certification exams).

The A-B-C-D Pattern

The A-B-C-D pattern is a little tougher because, at first blush, there is no 'rhyme or reason' to the arrangement of answer choices. Consider the following example:

A. Run the Query command in Management Studio.

B. Edit the Group Policy Object (GPO).

C. Select the Performance Tuning template from Profiler.

D. Change the preferred server in DNS.

Whoa! What the heck is going on here? All four answer choices involve a completely different course of action:

  • Run
  • Edit
  • Select
  • Change

Well, all I can suggest is to first read through the choices a couple of times in order to get the concepts stuck in your mind. Next, read the item stem closely and see what information jumps out at you. Finally, you can apply a simple True/False technique to each item.

To do this, consider each answer choice individually, and ask yourself "Given the business requirements, constraint, and question provided in this item, is this answer choice statement true or false?" In a best-case scenario, using the True/False technique will assist you in isolating the correct answer(s) in the item.

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