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Tips for short answer and multiple choice questions

By Sarah Separovich on 26 July 2021Exam adviceNSWblogATAR#StudySkillsStudy tips

With exams coming up, we’re looking at the best way to answer short answer and multiple choice questions in exams. These questions are going to show up in nearly all of your papers, so it’s important that you know how to approach them.

With the right strategy, you’ve also got the chance to save some extra time for the essays or long responses at the end of the paper, so we need to be smart about this 👀

Multiple Choice

While multi-choice seems as simple as “you either know it or you don’t”, there’s a few tricks you should know to maximise your chances of getting these questions right 💪

1. Get a head start in reading time

If you’ve read through the whole paper and still have a bit of reading time left, start working through the multi-choice questions in your head. It’s a lot easier to remember these answers than it is to draft an essay in your head. So, once you can finally pick up your pen and start writing, you can get straight into it.

2. Rule out the options that are obviously wrong

You might not know the right answer straight away so just start by crossing out the answers that are definitely wrong. With fewer options to consider, you can think more clearly about which answer is correct. And, if you end up needing to guess, narrowing it down to two options means you have a 50% chance of getting it right, rather than a 25% chance 🤯

3. Always at least make a guess

Okay, there’s also a very slight chance that you’ll come across a question that you have no idea about. Like, you can’t even rule out one answer. But that’s okay, have a guess! There’s still a 25% chance you’ll get it, rather than 0% if you leave it unanswered.

It can be disheartening if this happens, but don’t let it affect the rest of your exam! Remember that it’s only one mark, so make a guess and move on, or revisit the question later on. Just don’t leave it blank when it comes to handing your paper in!

4. Read each question and every possible answer

While you might be tempted to move through the multi-choices quickly so you can get to the rest of the paper, carefully working through each option is essential. You don’t want to risk falling for the ‘trick option’ (an answer that looks right but isn’t) and not reading carefully enough to see there’s a better answer just below.

5. Use the evidence from the multiple choice to answer the longer questions in the rest of your exam

Often, the content covered in the multi-choice questions will relate to other short or long answer questions. Use the evidence from these questions to formulate your written answers, or even to remind you of the syllabus dot points.

Short Answers

With a good strategy for short answers, you have the best chance for securing some high marks and put yourself in the best position for the essays and long responses at the end of the exam 💯

1. Pay attention to the key verb in the question

In each question, there’s a word that tells you exactly what you need to say about the content. It might be how, why, what, identify, explain, demonstrate or more.

These keywords are super important for writing the best answer, so be sure to know their definitions and exactly how to use them.

2. Don’t waste time writing more than you need

They’re called short answers for a reason! Your marker is going to be looking for just a few things in your answer, so don’t waste time adding extra information that wasn’t asked for. Not only does it make it harder for your marker to see your logic, but you’ll also have less time to complete the rest of your exam.

3. Stick to a strong structure

As mentioned above, markers are looking for clear, concise and logical arguments. Using a tight structure will ensure you achieve this, and make it easier for them to follow your response. Our How To Answer Questions lessons will give you a good indication of how to structure your response depending on the subject you’re studying 🤤

4. Pay attention to the marks for the question

The number of marks allocated to each question tells you how much the marker is looking for. Usually, a question worth 5 marks is going to require more content than one worth 2 marks. For example, a 2-marker might require you to define a particular concept and provide an example. For a 5-marker, you might need you to define two concepts, provide examples for each, and then compare them, which will take a bit more time to plan and then write out!

So, we can use the marks to estimate how much time should be spent on each question.


We often focus more on the essays and long responses in an exam, but there are serious marks to win (and lose) in the multiple choice and short answer sections. As well as knowing your stuff, make sure you’ve got the right approach for each kind of question and you’ll be ready to ace your exams.

You can find some more helpful tips on our Instagram or follow us on TikTok. See you there 👋

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