Friday, January 8, 2010
10 - Law School Multiple Choice Exams
LAW SCHOOL MULTIPLE CHOICE EXAMS
Most of what I am going to tell you now comes from material I share with my students at my law school. To be honest, I’m not completely sure where all of this came from, but some would be from people at my law school and some from my personal research. I wish I had been more careful to make sure I could give proper credit, but I still want to share this with you because I believe it is helpful. In fact, if anyone sees this and recognizes it as his/her material or if anyone see this and sees another site where phrases are substantially the same, please let me know and provide the citation. I will immediately give appropriate credit.
We now move from essay exams to multiple choice exams. Here are some helpful comments, but you should note that they are only to be used as an aid when you cannot, by logic and knowledge, select an appropriate answer. Never substitute anything for logic and knowledge.
1. Don’t look at the prospective answers yet. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER read the prospective answers at this point. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. In fact, take care to cover the prospective answers with something.
2. Read the Call of the Question FIRST. You will do so much better if the FIRST thing you read is the “call of the question.” Usually the call will be right at the end of the facts, but the point is, something in the facts, or at the end, will tell you what is expected of you. Maybe read it twice. This task won’t take very long. Just do it. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER read the prospective answers at this point. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. In fact, take care to cover the prospective answers with something.
3. Read the question carefully. Many law students are so anxious to get on with the business of answering the question that they just don’t read the question very carefully. So, at this point, read the question. You can read it quickly the first time through. Don’t mark anything on the paper or take any notes yet. Don’t circle anything. Just read the facts through quickly. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER read the prospective answers at this point. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. In fact, take care to cover the prospective answers with something.
4. Read the question again. As you read the question this time, you can begin to circle some words or take notes. Your task at this point is to read EACH WORD with a critical eye. Read the question this time CAREFULLY. Begin thinking about what do all of these words mean together. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER read the prospective answers at this point. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. In fact, take care to cover the prospective answers with something.
5. The prospective answers. Okay. NOW, you can look at the prospective answers, but – AND THIS IS IMPORTANT – read one at a time and treat it as a true/false question. If you reasonably believe it is false, then mark it off. If you reasonably believe it is true, then place a “T” by it (or some other marker that you choose). If you are not sure, place another marker by it; like “NS.” Then go to the next prospective answer and do the same thing. Complete this process until you have read and marked all prospective answers.
6. Choosing the correct answer. There will be more information on this later, but for now, if you have followed the formula set out above, you will have eliminated one or more of the prospective answers. Remember that if you just start out guessing, you have a 25% chance of choosing the right answer (1 out of 4). So, if you have eliminated just one of the prospective answers, your chance of choosing the right answer is now 33 1/3%. If you have successfully eliminated two of the prospective answers, by flipping a coin, you have a 50-50 shot at getting the question right. Of course, all of this presumes that you were correct when you eliminated certain answers!
Here are some hints for eliminating wrong answers. Note, however, that these are GENERAL rules. They may not work in all situations, but they are still helpful when you are stuck.
1. The obviously wrong answer. Even if you know nothing about the subject of a question, some answers will obviously be wrong, but be careful not to assume a common misconception that a lay person may believe to be true or false.
2. The incomplete prospective answer. Many times an answer that looks good, will not be a COMPLETE statement of the law. If that is the case, for instance it leaves one element out of the definition, it is probably a wrong answer. You may need to write out the complete rule statement and then make sure that the prospective answer states the complete rule.
3. The assumption. If an answer requires you to assume something then the question is probably not right. Just use the FACTS that you are given. Don’t make assumptions.
4. The trick question. Most of the time, a law examiner is NOT trying to trick you. You are required, of course, to be able to make subtle distinctions and to know the law, but don’t assume that the examiner is trying to trick you.
5. Trust your feelings. Assuming that you have actually studied well, and all else has failed, you may have a “gut” feeling. You can go with this feeling, but there is no substitute for having a good handle on the law.
Here are some comments that might help if you have narrowed the prospective answer down. Again, keep in mind that these are not absolute rules, but rather they may be of help if you are stumped.
1. Check the differences. Take a look at the answers you have left and analyze how they are different. Often noticing the differences will lead you to understand why one is not the best answer. Note that just one word could be the clue.
2. Read it again. Try reading one of the answers you have left again with the question. Sometimes that may help you see something wrong.
3. Take a deep breath. Often it helps to just take a deep breath and relax for a few seconds.
4. Skip it. Don’t waste time. Don’t spend too much time on any one question. If you are still perplexed, skip the whole question and come back later. Make sure that you develop a marking system so you will be able to find the skipped question later.
5. Location, Location, Location. If all else fails, choose B or C rather than A or D. More correct answers are in the middle rather than on the ends. Some multiple choice tests may have more than four prospective answers, but the middle is still a better guess. If you have five prospective answers, select B or D.
6. How long is the answer? If you are left with a choice between a short answer and a long answer, look to see if the longer one is too complicated. If it is, select the shorter one. Otherwise, select the longer one.
7. Remember ninth grade English. Sometimes the question and a prospective answer will not line up grammatically. If so, select the answer with the correct grammar.
8. Technical Language. If you are left with a choice between one answer that has unusually or overly technical language, select the one that is less technical or complicated.
9. Qualifiers. If one answer has qualifiers in it like “usually,” “generally,” “perhaps,” or “tends to,” and the other answer does not, select the answer with the qualifier.
10. Absolutes. If one answer has absolutes in it like “every time,” “always” or “never,” and the other answer does not, select the answer that does not have the absolute.
11. Two right answers. If you are left with two right answers, select the better of the two or the one that is the least wrong.
12. If you have no clue. Skip the question and come back to it later. You might get smarter as time goes on. If you don’t know the answer, then you don’t know the answer. The best athlete has a short memory. That is why a hitter in baseball can look like a fool on one swing and hit a homerun on the next. That’s why the pitcher can give up a homerun to one batter and strike the next batter out. You just might need to smile and say, under your breath to your professor, “Got me on this one.”
13. Dork! This is what you will call yourself (maybe something worse) if you select an answer and then change it. I have read where experts say that when a student selects an answer and then changes it, almost 75% of the time, the answer was changed from a right answer to a wrong one. The percentage doesn’t change much at all if the student had selected a wrong answer and then selects another one. Most of the time another wrong answer is selected again. So change an answer ONLY if you are ABSOLUTELY sure.
14. When all else fails, guess. Most multiple choice exams do not penalize you for wrong answers, but rather you are scored on the number of right answers. So don’t run out of time with a blank answer. I suggest that your marking system scale the questions you leave blank on a 1-3 scale with either the 1 or the 3 being the very hardest (or clueless) question. So when you go back over your exam, watch your time and start with the blank questions that you have deemed the easiest. Then, if you have a few left with just seconds to finish, you will be totally guessing on the hardest questions. I can’t say to never leave a blank question since you may be taking an exam where you ARE penalized for wrong answers. So ask your professor beforehand.
Hopefully, these comments will be helpful, but remember, these are just some clues – aids. They are no substitute for knowing the material.
© 2009 Douglas S. Holden. All Rights Reserved.