Monday, February 6, 2012

Study Tipping Tuesday – Building a Practice Multiple-Choice Test for Review

It's Tuesday – which means it is time for some more study tips for the week :)

As I've mentioned in previous posts, one of the most effective ways to study is to create a practice test. So I thought I'd share an easy way to create one. Because remember creating the practice test itself is just as effective (if not more so) than actually taking it. 

There are a few practice test methods that I'll eventually share, and I'd like to start with the multiple-choice.

In education, one of the most effective methods to learn something is to associate it with its meaning and differentiate it from what it isn't -- a logical, but incorrect answer (i.e. what can sometimes feel like a "trick" question on a test but is really there to make you think hard). It's called a “non-example.” By building your own questions, you allow yourself to interact with the material on a deeper level by defining terms and non-examples. 

Okay, are you ready? Here's what to do: 

First, choose key details from the sections that you are reviewing; for example, focus on things that you may have highlighted during your reading. 

Next, try to think about the kind of questions that could be associated with that topic. There are generally two types of MC questions.

The first type is usually easier to answer – those questions that simply require you to distinguish between definitions. 

When creating these questions, the rules are simple: generate a sample question, providing the correct answer as one option.

Then choose terms that are related to or similar to the correct answer – terms that have something to do with the correct choice but have a distinguishing characteristic. Have fun and be sneaky about it. Pretend you're a professor trying to "trick" students (i.e. really trying to make them think hard). 

Use those answers to build the incorrect multiple-choice answers for the question. 

As you do this you will be thinking deeply about the term and how it is different from other closely related examples. This will dig it deep into your brain, ready to recall come study time. 

The second type of question you'll want to develop – the more common – and difficult – is the example-based question. 

The process for you will be exactly the same.  

The only difference is you'll be dealing with the practical application of theories instead of definitions. For example, in most psychology, science, and business classes professors will ask you to apply theories, postulations, or laws to a set of circumstances. 

So, in order to simulate this, you'll work towards understanding the theory enough to predict what type of question could be asked with it and what mistakes could be made. This takes practice.

For example, if you are studying gas laws in chemistry, you'd want to generate a sample question that will require you to go through the process of applying those laws to a situation correctly. 

Come up with a scenario and choose the correct theory application. Then, start to build non-examples that show the incorrect steps in the process – or an incorrect interpretation of that theory or concept. In the chemistry example, your incorrect  choices might be an instance of applying a different gas law, or a non-example where you skip or misplace a step in the process or formula. 

Again, the purpose here is very focused (and very effective). 

Studying isn’t just preparing for correct answers. It is preparing to be able to see why the incorrect answers shouldn’t be chosen. 

This isn’t always easy at first. It shouldn’t be. If this process was always easy, professors wouldn’t be able to challenge their students. And everyone would get 100's on their tests. 

But, once you start analyzing the way that questions can be formatted – rather than flipping through definitions on flashcards or thinking that staring with dead-eyes down at your books counts as studying – you can build your preparedness and confidence (and test scores) to new heights you might not even realize are possible. 

And remember, the goal isn’t to get a “C” or even a “B” on a test. The goal is a to get a perfect score. The 100%.

Because you can.

It's not about perfection. But trying your hardest is about always striving for perfection, knowing that your self-worth lies in the striving itself. 

So strive. Create multiple choice questions. Make your study time stimulating and valuable. And then maybe even trade tests with your friends to see if you can "trick" them ;)

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