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How to Outsmart an Engineering Exam with Multiple Choice Questions

No, there is no such thing as a Power of C!

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To engineering students, taking an engineering exam that does not require any showing of solution but with choices is what we live for. Where there are already options for the answers, we just have to choose one of them. The probability of having a good score in a multiple choice exam is higher than having a show-your-solution exam – because that kind of exam can end with an empty answer sheet.

Of course when one knows the solution to each problem in an engineering exam. There is not much to worry about multiple choice exam as a guessing game. But for the skeptical and the unlearned, it is at the end of the pencil or the pen that his or her destiny is determined.

Multiple choice exams are not entirely random. There is some sort of psychology involved in making the choices, with some choices being more favorable. William Poundstone in his book ‘Rock Breaks Scissors: A Practical Guide to Outguessing and Outwitting Almost Everybody” explains it in full. He puts in his book the common patterns he found in multiple-choice tests, including computer-randomized exams like SATs.

The sources covered from middle school, high school, college, and professional school exams; driver’s tests; licensing exams for fire fighters and radio operators; and even newspaper quizzes. Poundstone evaluated 100 tests in all, accumulating 2,456 questions.

He reiterates that “a guessing strategy is useful to the extent that it beats random guessing,” but knowledge of the subject matter is always the best way to make it in a multiple choice exam. Nonetheless, here are his tips to outsmart that multiple choice engineering exam:

  • The middle answer isn’t always the answer. There are no statistics to support this.
  • It doesn’t always mean that the choices with ‘never,’ ‘always,’ ‘all,’ or ‘none’ need to be avoided. It is not an indication that it is the wrong answer. In fact, “None of the above” or “all of the above” were correct 52% of the time.
  • The longest answer may be the answer. He says, “Test makers have to make sure that right answers are indisputably right.” To prove that the choice is really correct, the choice is to be qualified to a lengthy explanation.
  • He doesn’t have any mention about the Power of A, the Power of B, the Power of C, and even Power of D. An answer, therefore, has nothing to do with the letter they represent.
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To add to these findings of Poundstone, it is better for engineering students as well to do a visual estimate of the answer, especially when it’s an engineering system with imaginable quantities. Eliminate those answers that seem to be impossible as the answer. Recommended as well is to do a dimensional analysis – that is to find a way to arrive to a certain unit of measurement out of the given – if applicable.

The next time you take a multiple choice exam, you already have these statistics-based facts up your sleeves.


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Engr. Mary Lucas
Social Media geek living in Dubai. Mechanical Engineer chick, blogger, writer, inventor, and social good follower. Love nature, science & techn. I'm tweeting @MaryLucas87


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