Mastering multiple choice question exams

Posted in: academic skills, exams

If you ever have to complete a multiple choice question (MCQ) exam, here are some top tips from former Academic Skills Course Leader Tom Reid to help you succeed.

Tip 1: Read and understand the rules, instructions, logistics

It's vital that you spend time orientating yourself with the exam. Check through the rubric with care, so that you know exactly what you have to do and don't get it wrong from the start.

Tip 2: Familiarise yourself with question types

There are many variations of question types, from A,B,C, True/False types to short answers. Your department will have its own style and system and so it's important that you find out beforehand what the questions in the exam will look like. Then you can practise and become skilled in answering the various types.

Tip 3: Target key topic areas to revise 

Your tutor will probably give you clear indications or strong hints about the topic areas that will be covered in the exam. You obviously need to focus on those and start to break them down into their key descriptive and critical components, information and detail.

Tip 4: Devise a revision plan and timetable 

When you've established your focus areas for study, you need to devise a revision timetable and stick to it!

The best way to do this is to work backwards from the exam date to where you are now, and then break down each day into segments of study. You should aim for study sessions no longer than 40 minutes with short breaks between. When you've completed a series of say three or four study segments, give yourself a reward - for example a movie or coffee with friends. This will keep you focused and motivated.

Here's a checklist to help you make a study plan:

  • Establish a logical study routine
  • Categorise topics
  • Start early, manage your time
  • Choose a location that suits and motivates you
  • Eliminate distractions – phones/TV/music/pub/friends (but note, some people work better with distractions)
  • Set one task per study session
  • Revise in short bursts of intense and focused concentration (no longer than 40 mins)
  • Take regular breaks
  • Eat well, sleep well, exercise.

Tip 5: Choose one topic from the list in the unit and write down what you already know

This will help build your confidence as you'll probably find you know more than you think. If there are holes in your knowledge, then you've identified them early.

Tip 6: Using lecture notes / core reading / your notes, pull the topic content apart, reduce, and simplify

You'll probably find that you have way more study material than you need for each core topic area you are working on. This can be confusing. It's vital therefore that you go through your notes, unpack them, remove key and relevant information, reduce it down to bite-sized memorable chunks and simplify as much as you can. That way, your revision is more likely to stick!

This example demonstrates how a student has reduced their notes to manageable and memorable bite-sized nuggets of information:


Advantages and disadvantages?

Achieving a high degree of P-O fit is viewed in many quarters as desirable in terms of positive work-related outcomes, especially in the context of a tight labour market and the war for talent (Ng and Burke, 2005) and in buttressing organisational culture. Much has been be claimed for it in terms of its potential impact on inter alia, job seeking intentions, both job and career satisfaction, psychological strain, organisational citizenship behaviours, knowledge acquisition and knowledge sharing, ethical conduct, organisational identification, job performance, and turnover. In their meta-analytic review of the relationship between P-O fit and behavioural outcomes, Hoffman and Woehr (2006) indicate that P-O fit is weakly to moderately related to job performance, organisational citizenship behaviour and turnover. In their most recent meta-analysis Kristof-Brown et al. (2005) find that P-O fit has strong correlations with job satisfaction and organisational commitment and a more moderate correlation with intention to quit. The relationship between P-O fit and attitudinal dimensions including satisfaction with co-workers, satisfaction with supervisors and trust in management was moderate, while the correlation with organisational satisfaction was substantially higher. Specifically on the issue of performance Kristof-Brown et al. (2005) find that P-O fit has low correlations with overall job performance and task performance and moderate correlations with contextual performance.

Reduced notes


  • Identify best people in scarce market
  • Strengthens organisational culture
  • Improves job and career satisfaction
  • Reduces stress
  • Loyalty and support for the organisation
  • Skills development and knowledge sharing
  • Maintains ethical conduct
  • Strong sense of belonging and identity
  • Improves commitment, performance, and turnover
  • Organisational satisfaction


  • Low impact on performance
  • Only moderate levels of satisfaction and trust with co-workers, superiors
  • Only moderate levels of contextual performance

Tip 7: Ask more questions and widen the context

(Based on previous example)

  • Are there any more advantages and disadvantages?
  • Are there any examples that illustrate these?
  • What other topic areas/theories connect to fit theory?  e.g. Recruitment-related topics
  • Factors affecting staffing decisions
  • Methods of recruiting -  e.g. Performance-related topics
  • Job satisfaction
  • Motivation
  • Commitment

Tip 8: Review, recycle, rewrite... and practise, practise, practise!

  • Review notes and rewrite key info
  • Write your own multiple choice questions
  • Practise example questions

Tip 9: Revise with friends

  • Share notes
  • Make quizzes and test each other
  • Troubleshoot issues
  • Give each other moral support

Tip 10: In the test, try and answer the question BEFORE you look at the choices

If that doesn’t work… Take out the answers you know are definitely wrong.

If that doesn’t work… Move on to the next question and come back to it later.

Posted in: academic skills, exams


  • (we won't publish this)

Write a response