Wild guessing strategies on tests

(A Finals-Week Special)
Say you’re taking a multiple choice test, and you come across a question that you have absolutely no clue on. Just to make up a ridiculous example:

Which of these is the catalyst in the alpha-Illuminati Presidential election:
B)The distance from Pluto to the Sun.

So, you take a wild guess and go on. Later in the test, probably due to bad test-writing skills on the Prof’s part, you find this question:

Which of these is NOT the catalyst in the alpha-Illuminati Presidential election:
B)The distance from Pluto to the Sun.

So, do you pick the same answer on both questions and feel confidant that you got one of them right? Or do you make your guesses consistent and go all-or-nothing?

Myself, I always go all-or-nothing on complementary questions like that. Partially because I feel like if I’m going to guess, I should “guess loudly,” if you get my drift, and go all the way with it, but I also think that I’m usually a good enough guesser that I’m right more often than I’m not. That whole “your first reaction is the right answer” thing - a lot of times you know the answer without realizing it.

So, Dopers, what do you do: hedge your bets or go all-or-nothing?

The common wisdom when I was a test takin’ lad was that statistically “B” was most often the right answer. So, when I ran out of time the first time I took the LSAT, I just dragged my pencil down the “B” column (I have some vague memory that a wrong answer was somehow worse than none).

Anyway, I wound up with a 96th percentile score, which was acceptable, but probably places me well behind the Doper attorneys. I did not go on to law school.

They scored the LSAT differently then - more like SATs, a score out of 800, as opposed to the now scoring system keyed on what(?), 48?

I would definitely go all or nothing, although often enough in my experience the second question would be:

Which of these is NOT the catalyst in the alpha-Illuminati Presidential election:
B)The number of CDs in each candidate’s collection

…which of course means scrambling to find the previous question to make sure I guessed right.

And the LSAT is now on a scale of 120-180. This for a test that purports to test logic. :rolleyes:

I once tried taking a practice exam without looking at the questions - just the multi-guess answers. Surprisingly, I got 60% (remember I didn’t even look at the questions). I did it in Maths, it might not work so well for other subjects, but the technique was that the real answer will tend to have wrong answers on either side of it.

For example if the answers are:

A -3 B 2 C -1 D -2 E 1

You can immediately eliminate A because it doesn’t have an opposite (3). There are 3 negative numbers and 2 positive, so the answer will be a negative number. There are answers on either side of -2 (D), but only on one side of -1 © so the answer is D.

It can be easily extended to more complicated sets of answers in a similar way.

However, I still always did better when I read the question.

Using an Analog watch with a second hand, read the question, check the time, if it’s betwen 12 and 3 answer A 'tween 3 and 6 use B. Continue as long as your test only uses four answers. Good luck.

Nah, you’re good. I only got 93rd percentile. Then again, I’m not an attorney quite yet (ten days to graduation, yay).

In law school, generally, the longest answer on the MC test is most likely the correct one. Beyond that, you’re on your own.

This reminds me of a Peanuts cartoon featuring Linus taking a true-false test and reasoning out the answers.

I’ve always had good luck with card counting method. It assumes that the test creator will try to roughly even out the spread of correct answers. First, answer every question you’re sure of or pretty sure of. Then count up the number of As,Bs,Cs, and Ds. Whichever one has the lowest count is a good way to go for the ones where you have to WAG anyway.

I don’t know why she told us this but my teacher in middle school told my class these “secrets” for multiple choice tests.

  1. “C” is the most common answer.

  2. “A” is the least used answer choice. She said that teachers who write their tests want you to read all the choices. Whatever.

  3. When in doubt, pick the longest answer in terms of words and letters. Basically, if it takes up a lot of space, pick it.

I don’t really know how real this is supposed to be but I always pick C when I’m stuck. Don’t bomb too bad.

Actually, if it’s a decently contructed multiple-choice test, none of those tips should hold true. All answers should occur with the same frequency. And, inter-related items like the example in the OP are no-nos. One question should not tell you the answer to another, nor should you need to know the answer to one question to get another one. The answer choices should be properly randomized. The best method is NOT to pick one letter and pencil it all the way down: then your overall score will hover somewhere around 25% for a 4-choice test. You may as well go with the watch method. (NOTE: I’m practicing for a final in my tests and measurements class, so I hope I actually know what I’m talking about…)

I use the eenie-meenie-miney-moe system after I’ve eliminated as many answers as possible. Works for me.

Congrats on your upcoming graduation, Max Torque. I get free representation, yes? JK :wink:

As an ex-multiple choice test constructer here:

  1. The software I used to generate the overwhelming majority of MCTs had a “scramble” option. It would randomly arrange the answers before saving/printing. I assume that the Princeton people have at least as good as software. So much for “always pick X”. (Superstition is not a good thing when taking tests, or any other situation.)

  2. For one class (taught many times), on tests I would have one multipart true-false question. All of the statements would sound quite plausible. Only one would be right (which I never revealed and no one ever caught on). Generated a huge number of incorrect “trues”. Kept me abreast as to how desperately guessing people were. So if you ever see a bunch of true/false questions which sound probably true, always assume that most are false.

I am excellent at MCTs and did nicely on the SATs and GREs. Each one had a question with no right answer. Spent half the time allotted trying to figure out which one of the answers the test creator had thought was right. Got a 799 on the SAT Math so I probably guessed wrong. Got a 990 on the advanced GRE (perfect) so guessed right. (This before I knew you could get your picture on the front page of the NY Times for finding errors in SAT tests.) Other than that, I don’t ever enter guess mode. Even when it comes down to two answers, I never flip a mental coin. I assume I can always outsmart the test creator.

I’m just sorry I didn’t go to school/college/university in the states :frowning:

Seems to me that there’s a much better chance of getting through exams if they’re multiple choice rather than the abundance of essay questions that we seem to have over here.

Incidentally, I work in a British university and I don’t think any of our courses have multiple choice testing - whatever you do. Perhaps over here they’re testing something more than knowledge of the facts and more about critical argument etc? I wonder if this is just my perception or a realism?:wink:

It is possible to make a very in-depth multiple choice test, though, which is especially handy if you’re in a class of 200+ people at a state university. Organic chemistry tests, for example, often show several different chemicals and ask what you’d get if you mixed them together - and the exact reaction shown hasn’t been gone over before in class or the reading; you have to know enough about the trends and theories behind the chemistry to be able to predict which answer is correct.

In high school, I actually liked essay tests more than m.c., because I could forget a key term and still BS my way through them, dancing around the parts I’d forgot. If you hadn’t studied for a multiple choice test, and you didn’t know a question, you were pretty much screwed (assuming the test was designed relatively well). Call it “testing critical argument instead of fact memorization” if you want, but I thought of it as an easy way out. :wink:

Oh, and incidentally I don’t mind the slight hijack of my thread at all - the title was a little misleading. Feel free to either answer the OP or just talk about guessing strategies in general :slight_smile:

Fair comment. I have to say that I chose subjects right through college and uni (16-21) that suited my ability to BS my way through (sociology, english, education) and struggled on the hard fact stuff (biology).

Perhaps ‘critical analysis’ is an easy way out - although part of my job is making sure that staff at this institution have rigourous assessment and marking criteria so that the BS should be easily identifiable.

Actually, I’ve just realised that the trend has gone right away from exams anyway, everything is pretty much assignment based these days.

Anyway, I’m going way off-topic here so I’ll stop…!! :smiley: