As we head into exam season, it is worth doing a bit of exam training with your students. Exam technique will only take students so far, but if they are well-prepared, at least it means that you will be giving them the best chance to show what they can do. They should go into the exam feeling confident and it will minimise the chance of them underperforming on the day. Today, we are going to focus on multiple-choice exam papers.
Along with the correct answer, every question will have options that are incorrect. These are called distractors. Whilst it is impossible to give a fixed set of rules for how to spot them, here are a few hints that may help:
- Longer answers may be more likely to be correct because they may need to be qualified to be correct.
- If there is one option that is completely different to the others (what is called an outlier), it is probably a distractor.
- Some guides suggest that strong qualifiers in answers(all, none, always, exactly, must) indicate an incorrect answer; and weak qualifiers (sometimes, often, usually, may) indicate a correct one. Although this is not correct, it is still worth paying close attention to these kinds of words – as they can make a seemingly correct answer, incorrect - and vice versa.
- Question-setters often use, in one of their answers, an exact word or phrase from a comprehension text. Beware of these ‘echo’ phrases. Contrary to some guidance, this does not give a strong indication of whether the answer is correct or not. However, as with qualifiers, these echo phrases are worth attending to. Go back to the text and try to understand the phrase in its context.
- Do not discount an answer just because it contains vocabulary you don’t know. Instead, try to use strategies such as breaking down the word into its components, to try to make sense of it.