6.8 – Multiple Choice Strategy


Multiple-Choice Questions Strategy

In this lesson, I want to talk about how you should approach multiple-choice questions on the exam. We're going to spend more time in the next class talking about your strategy for essay exams. How to prepare for those. How to write a good essay answer. It's worth spending just a little bit of time talking about multiple-choice. Essay exams are the most popular style of exam in law school, but many law schools use some amount of multiple-choice questions. Sometimes in addition to essays, some professors like to use it. Instead of essays, you might have an all multiple-choice exam.

Familiarize yourself with multiple-choice questions as there are clear right and wrong answers.

Getting some familiarity with multiple-choice questions is in your interest in law school, I think, because it will help prepare you for the bar exam, which has a big multiple-choice component as well. Don't be afraid of multiple-choice. I think that if you see a class you're taking has multiple-choice exams, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. It is a different format than an essay exam. It's testing you slightly differently in the sense that an essay exam can test you on both clear and fuzzy rules. It can ask you to spot issues that are really easy and where there's a rule that just is a bright-line rule.

You can say, "This rule was violated in this fact pattern or not." Also rules that are in what I've described before as the gray area and where you have to make a bunch of lawyerly arguments and maybe analogize to cases and so forth. None of that is really possible in a multiple-choice exam. You have a question and you just have a bunch of choices and all you get to do is choose which option is best. It's very hard and nearly impossible to write a multiple-choice exam that really can test in the fuzzy gray area. Instead, I think most professors who are giving multiple-choice exams are looking to test legal knowledge that really turns on clear rules.

There's clear right and wrong answers. Some areas of law are going to lend themselves to that more than others. I know a lot of people who teach very statutory-heavy classes, like to use multiple-choice because it's pretty clear what is a right or wrong answer. It just depends on how well you've read the statute in question. Really, any law school class could provide the basis for some multiple-choice questions, as long as there's some amount of rules where you can really look at them and say, "Yes, here's the right answer or the wrong answer." It might be hard to figure that out.

You need to understand there's a difference between a question being hard and a question having not a clear right or wrong answer. A poorly designed multiple-choice exam will maybe try to test on things where there isn't a clear right or wrong answer. That's not the way it's supposed to be. It's supposed to be designed in such a way that there clearly are right or wrong answers, even if they're hard to find. A good multiple-choice exam is designed to be quite hard in the sense that a professor really wants the multiple-choice exam to create a spread, and that it's going to really differentiate between students based on their knowledge.

(1) Prepare yourself with questions that have one correct answer and multiple answers, (2) learn art of elimination

How do you do that? Well, you write a multiple-choice exam that has one correct answer, and that has other answers. The other answers are often called distractors. The idea is that they're going to distract you from the right answer. Those answers are supposed to look very plausible. When you confront a multiple-choice question, first step is read the question really, really carefully and read every single word. Then read all of the answers. If it's well designed, each of those answers is going to sound a little plausible. Maybe it'll remind you of something you studied, but it'll be just a little bit off in some way.

You want to try to eliminate answers. The more you can eliminate, the better. You often won't necessarily know exactly the grading pattern your professor's going to use. I think usually it's in your interest to guess at least if you can eliminate some of the clearly wrong answers. If you get to a point where there's two answers that seem clearly right, you've clearly missed something. You need to go back and just try to figure it out. Maybe you can't figure it out and you just have to move on to the next question. You really need to be keeping track of your time when you're taking a multiple-choice exam. They're usually designed so that you don't have that much time for each question.

If you get stuck, you just have to keep going and maybe circle that one and come back to it. How do you study for a multiple-choice exam? First of all, as I said, if they're really about testing bright-line rules, you want to make sure you know those bright-line rules really cold. If you're taking an all multiple-choice exam, well, that tells you maybe you can study a little differently. You're going to spend more time making sure you really know the black-letter rules and maybe less time really wading into the nuance, the kind of meat of a possible essay answer. You also should do your best to practice.

One of the things that I want to stress throughout this class is that the best way to get better at doing law school exams is to practice the skill of taking them. Now, many professors don't give out that many sample multiple-choice questions. Good, multiple-choice questions are pretty hard to write. A lot of professors like to reuse their questions or modify them from year to year. They don't have a huge bank of prior questions that they can give you. Professor should at least try to give you some questions you can use for study, and then you can find other ones elsewhere. I would look online.

There are sample books of multiple-choice questions. Those are not going to be perfect for you because every class is a little different. Every professor might teach the black-letter rules a little differently, but something is better than nothing. The more time you spend with multiple-choice questions, just getting used to the format, getting used to coming up with an answer quickly, I think the easier you're going to find them. Just some other little things. Don't look for a pattern in the answers. Don't think, "Oh gosh, I've had three Cs in a row. It can't be that."

When a professor is designing multiple-choice exams, they're usually not really thinking about that. They may just randomize the answers. Just focus on what the best answer is to each question. Don't look at the larger pattern because you're just going to psych yourself out and drive yourself crazy. Just keep in mind that they are designed to be hard. Some of them may be designed to be easy, but a good number of the questions are designed to be really hard. You don't necessarily need to get each one of them correct. The point that I'm going to come back to later is your goal in a law school exam isn't to get all the points. It's just to get more points than the next person.

If there's one that's hard, if there's some that you just don't feel like you're totally nailing, that's fine. Keep going, answer as many as you can. Don't leave money on the table. Get through all the questions.

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