Exam questions

Learn how to revise for different question types and strategies for answering them.

Multiple-choice questions

For multiple-choice questions, you need to choose the correct or most appropriate answer from several options.

For example:

Which of the following is NOT a primary colour:

a. Red
b. Green
c. Blue
d. Yellow

How to revise

Have a look at some general revision techniques to help you revise for multiple-choice questions.

In the exam

Pay attention to the questions

  • Quickly read all the questions and their answers before you try answering any.
  • Note any qualifying words such as “choose the most correct answer”. You may be asked to choose more than one correct answer.
  • Watch out for negatives, e.g., “which of the following is not  an example.”

Choosing your answers

  • Try to answer the question before looking at the answers.
  • Delete obvious non-answers first, then make a choice.
  • If two options seem correct, look for subtle differences, and then compare them to the question to see which fits best.
  • Answer the questions you’re sure of first, then try the others.
  • If you really don’t know the answer, make an educated guess.

Short-answer questions

For short-answer questions, you normally need to write a few sentences or a paragraph. The allocated marks and time available for each question will indicate how much you should write.

How to revise

Have a look at some general revision techniques to help you revise for short-answer questions. In addition:

  • Prepare examples or other supporting evidence (e.g., statistics) for each concept where possible.
  • Organise key concepts by theme or topic headings and revise them one topic at a time. This will help you remember them better.

In the exam

  • Analyse the question carefully and identify keywords, instructions and any limits (words that restrict or narrow the topic, e.g., date, geographical location, number of examples required).
  • Focus on keywords, phrases and ideas the examiner is expecting.
  • Consider the marks the question is worth.
  • Consider how much space you have to write.
  • Organise your ideas logically.
  • Keep to the point and leave out extra, irrelevant information.
  • Leave one or two lines after each answer in case you remember something important later.

Essay questions

Writing in exams is limited by time constraints, but the fundamentals of essay writing still apply. You should structure your essay in the usual way – introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion. You don’t have to include a reference list, but you should acknowledge your sources. Have a look at Writing effectively for more information.

How to revise

Have a look at some general revision techniques to help you revise for essay questions. In addition:

  • Prepare for one or two more topics than you need as a back-up.
  • Gather information to cover these topics from different perspectives. For example, summarise key points from your lecture notes.
  • Use memory techniques to help remember the main points effectively. Preparing for exams has some techniques you can try.
  • Practise writing essays under timed exam conditions.

In the exam

  • Choose questions during the exam reading time.
  • Read all the questions before you begin to work on any of them.
  • Start with the questions you know best.
  • Plan your time – check the number of points for each question and allocate your time accordingly.
  • Read the question carefully and identify keywords, instructions, and limits (words that restrict or narrow the topic, e.g., date, location, number of examples required).
  • Plan your answer. Spend a few minutes identifying the main points, writing relevant points on the question, and structuring your main points logically.
  • If you have time, review your answers and make corrections.
  • If you run out of time, write brief notes.

Problem-based questions

Usually these types of questions target formulae, steps in a process, or rules, and require you to solve a problem using calculations.

How to revise

Have a look at some general revision techniques to help you revise for problem-based questions. In addition:

  • Learn the facts, formulae, and methods that you will need to know, including how and when to apply them.
  • Go through problems that have been done in lectures, tutorials, tests, assignments or study guides.  Make sure you understand how they were solved.
  • Practise as many problems as you can find. Ask your tutor or lecturer for more if you need to.

In the exam

  • Answer the questions you are sure of first; then try the others.
  • Write down the relevant formulae, equations and rules.
  • Clearly show the steps you have taken in working out the answers.
  • If necessary (and appropriate) write some notes to explain your answers.
  • For numerical problems involving computation, make sure you include the appropriate units (e.g., ml, cm, N, m/sec) in your final answers.
  • If appropriate, underline your final answer to help clarify your answers.
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