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Most of the competitive exams these days have Multiple Choice Questions or MCQs, which have 4 or more possible answers and you have to choose one. Below are my tips for attempting these questions/papers.

Preparing for Exams: Solving Past Papers

  1. Find out the pattern of previous papers.
  2. Solve them in exact time like conditions. It is a redundant advice but most of us need a reminder now and then to go back to the basics: practice, practice, practice.
  3. After you have solved the paper, before looking at the answers, put up a symbol next to every answer denoting your level of confidence in that answer.e.g. you could use the following system:****  absolutely sure
    ***    almost sure/confused between two answers
    **      not so sure but the answer seems most likely
    *        blind guessing
  4. Check the answers. Did the answers you were confident in correct?
  5. Don’t worry if you get much less than you expected. It was a practice session for a reason.
  6. The reason is that now you can improve.
  7. Start with the ones you were confident in (**** and *** category). Find out why you didn’t get the right answer.
    It could be
    a) you made a silly mistake, or
    b) you read the question wrong, or
    c) you misunderstood the concept/formula/theory but you know it now, or
    d) you still think your answer is correct.
  8. If it is (d), you have to take immediate action. Look for detailed solution if you can find it or ask your teacher/TA/classmates. If it is a textbook question, look for errata online. Most of the standard textbooks have a list of errata on their publisher’s website where all the published and reported mistakes are listed.
  9. Maybe there is a simple explanation for why your answer was not the correct one or maybe you have not understood the theory/concept/law yet. If that is the case, go back and try to understand step by step with writing down each step.
  10. Keep a record of the misconceptions/errors you made in the paper. You don’t need to include the ones you guessed blindly/were not sure but make sure to list the ones you were confident in and got wrong. You can dedicate a small notebook to it if you want.
  11. Make flash cards out of that record of wrong answers. Put the question/concept/term/formula on one side and explanation/example/definition on the other side. These may turn out to be the most beneficial resource for your studies in the future.
  12. Revise from the notebook/flash cards regularly.
  13. Don’t do more than one paper a day. It just burns you out. You might be underprepared and taking two or more in a single day will give you a wrong judgement of your level. It won’t help “speed up” your preparation, trust me.

During Exam: My strategy

  1. Start by reviewing each question quickly (20 seconds per question max.) to identify the ones that you feel you are most confident in. Don’t try to solve them right now, just read and identify if it is easy, intermediate, difficult or seems in an alien language. If the answer is jumping at you and you are sure, mark it. Otherwise write a difficulty level next to it and move on.I use the following system:
    **** no idea how to solve/seems too much time consuming/
    ***   can be solved but will take some time/I can’t remember the exact thing
    **     can be solved in 3-6 steps/I just need to think a bit harder to recall/two of the answers appeal to me
    *       I know the answer/can get the answer by a simple 1-2 step calculation
  2. Start by * and ** marked.
  3. Go with your gut/first guess if you’re confused between two answers.
  4. If there is no penalty/negative marking, solve ALL the questions.
  5. If you can’t solve a ** marked question within 3-5 minutes, move on.
  6. DO NOT spend much time on questions that are challenging but demand multi-step calculation which could go wrong at so many levels. Leave them for last.
  7. Once you’ve done a first round of solving, start from the end again. This time include *** and the ** ones that you left. If you can’t solve a ** marked question even by allotting 2-3 more minutes, leave it. It is not worth it.
  8. In the second round, you should aim for attempting all the questions except **** marked ones. You should aim for getting answers for at least half of these.
  9. Once you are done with second round, go back to the beginning and check every question. Don’t solve them again, just look at the answer and if you think you are right, put the final answer in the OMR sheet/answer sheet (if you haven’t already). Make sure all of the solved questions are marked/ticked/written in the answer sheet.
  10. Once you’ve done all the ticking/marking for the answers you feel confident in, start solving unanswered ones, attempt them one by one. DO NOT start this third round without putting/ticking answered questions.
  11. Again, don’t spend too much time on a question that seems “just out of reach” and you think you can get the answer by a little more effort. If you have already spent 7-10 minutes on it, move on.
  12. Tick the final answers as you go. You can’t take the risk of running out of time at the end and losing marks just because you couldn’t put/mark the final answer on the answer sheet/OMR/paper.
  13. Once you are done with the third round, you should have attempted all the questions(not necessarily answered). Now all your easy and intermediate questions are done and final answers marked. Now is the time to catch the confusing/detailed/multi-step questions or the ones that you couldn’t solve at the first or second attempt.
  14. If the question demands some extra data, look for the attached sheets. Most of the question papers in Science are provided with list of fundamental constants, periodic table of elements etc.
  15. Make intelligent guesses. e.g. if the question wants to calculate weight of a person, it should lie somewhere between 30-200 kg. If it asks you for energy input for a chemical reaction, the answer can’t be in MegaJoules or something!
  16. Give yourself a minute or two to relax. Close your eyes(don’t sleep!) and focus on something else, like trees outside for example. A change of focus will help your brain connect the information better. Take deep breaths and repeat to yourself-“RELAX”.
  17. See if you can make out the answer from other questions. Sometimes the answer to one question is hidden somewhere in the question paper itself. It is not intentional, just a matter of coincidence.
  18. When you’ve got 10-15 minutes left, wrap up. Make sure all calculated answers are written/marked as final. Correct any mistakes that you find.
  19. Go with your first answer(if you end up doing the question again and get a different answer). Change your answer if and only if you can convince yourself why the second answer is the correct one.
  20. Pat yourself in the back. You did your best.

After the exam

  1. Relax. Hang out with your friends(don’t discuss the paper). Go watch a movie or something.
  2. Don’t analyze the paper at least until you get the answer key. If you got the answer key right away, don’t analyze it the same day.
  3. Once the time comes to analyze, make sure you’ve got your notes, textbook, question paper and the answer key. It is time to repeat what you did before: checking your answers in a way that tells you what you need to work upon.
  4. Check the questions in one go as right or wrong. Don’t start analyzing till you checked all questions.
  5. Start with the ones you kind of know why you did wrong. Maybe it was a confusing concept or maybe you were stuck with two answers but ended up selecting the wrong one? Maybe it was a silly calculation mistake.
  6. Again, take out the notebook you used to note down concepts while doing practice questions. Repeat what you did: make a record of the “concepts” you got wrong. Make sure to understand them well this time. Go through them one by one and try to guess how the right answer was achieved.
  7. Leave out the ones you didn’t have much clue about for the last. You need to study them first.
  8. Once you are done analyzing, make a list of topics you need to study in detail/study again.
  9. Make a study schedule and try to stick to it.
  10. Take all the help you can get: study guides, textbooks, practice sheets/questions, help from teachers/TAs, online resources/videos/websites etc.

Make sure you taking a good care of yourself. You need the sleep and nutrition to perform at your best level. Eat well, laugh a lot and take it easy. You’ve got this!

MCQs: Tips and Tricks
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