Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Multiple-Choice Exam Strategies
The old adage from college about multiple-choice was that you just had to study enough to recognize the right answer among the wrong answers. That bit of advice does not work for law school multiple-choice questions.
In law school, professors have a variety of styles when they write multiple-choice questions. The "best answer" format is popular. Some professors use a "circle all right answers" format. Other professors have answers that designate combinations of answers (a, b and d; b, c, e and f). Then there are professors who end their answer lists with "all of the above" and "none of the above."
Fact patterns may vary in length from one sentence to more than a page. There may be one question per fact pattern or multiple questions per fact pattern. The multiple questions for a fact pattern may be completely separate from one another or "waterfall" so that the answer to the second question depends on the correct analysis on the first question and the answer to the third question depends on the correct analysis on the second question.
With so many variations, law students often feel at a loss how to proceed. Some strategies tend to work for all of the variations:
- First read the question that you are asked to answer at the end of the fact pattern (or before the answer choices). You want to make sure that you answer this precise question.
- Realize that the question asked may have some interesting characteristics that you need to note:
- It may give you the issue (examples: "which motion will be filed" or "what crime will be charged").
- It may assign you a role (examples: judge or prosecutor or defense attorney).
- It may indicate a jurisdiction (examples: "under common law" or "in Texas).
- It may specify facts (examples: "if Phil were 14 years old" or "if the statute of limitations were 3 years").
- After reading the question, you should then read the fact pattern with that specific question in mind. At the end of the fact pattern you should have the answer to the question in mind to help you analyze each answer choice.
- Read each of the individual answer choices carefully and decide for each whether it is a good or bad answer. Use a coding system that makes sense to you: yes/no; true/false; plus/minus.
- Do not skip any of the individual answer choices when you do your analysis. The best answer may be "the defendant is not liable unless..." even though when you finished reading the fact pattern you were sure that the best answer choice would begin with "the defendant is liable."
- If the answer format indicates that you need to consider combinations, then your coding of individual answer choices should indicate the correct combination answer. For example, if your coding indicated that a, b, and d were good answer choices:
- you would pick the answer choice "a, b, and d" and ignore any other combinations
- "all of the above" could not be correct since you thought c was a bad answer choice
- "none of the above" could not be correct since you thought a, b, and d were good answer choices
- To avoid holding the facts and rules that apply in your head while you consider answer choices, consider writing the rule and relevant facts in the margins of the exam paper or on provided scrap paper to allow you to easily evaluate each answer choice against that information.
- Even if you are not 100% sure of an answer choice when you consider a question, circle your best answer choice on the exam paper and bubble in the answer choice on the Scantron sheet before you move to the next question. This method prevents you from misaligning your bubbled answer choices because you forgot you skipped a question. It also prevents you from leaving the question bubble blank if you run out of time to return to the question.
- For any question that you want to return to for a second look, indicate that status in the exam paper margin with the percentage of certainty for the answer choice you bubbled in (examples: 80% or 70% or 60%; use a ? for 50% or less). Do not change the answer choice when you return to the question unless you are more than that percentage sure that the new answer choice would be correct.
- Rather than trying to keep track of the time available for each question (example: 2 minutes), designate time checkpoints and the number of questions you should have completed by that time checkpoint.
- Example for 60 questions in 2-hour exam starting at 1:00 p.m.: 15 questions completed by 1:30 p.m.; 30 questions completed by 2:00 p.m.; 45 questions completed by 2:30 p.m.; 60 questions completed by 3:00 p.m.).
- You can reserve time for review out of the overall time and distribute the remaining time over the questions (for the example in 1: reserve 30 minutes for review; then you would have to complete 20 questions for each of three 30-minute checkpoints at 1:30, 2:00, and 2:30).
- You can use more checkpoints if you tend to go too fast or too slowly through multiple-choice questions. The additional checkpoints will monitor your time more often to indicate if you need to slow down or speed up.
Multiple-choice exams require in-depth understanding of the material so that you can determine why one answer is better than another. Completing as many practice questions as possible will assist you in learning the nuances in applying the law to each question. (Amy Jarmon)