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Multiple Choice Exam Tips and Strategies

A lot of students think that college entrance tests are doable because most of the items are multiple choice questions anyway. But they couldn’t be more wrong. Multiple choice tests are never necessarily less difficult than, say, identification or essay exams. With the right strategy, however, you can turn all those multiple choices to your advantage.

Multiple Choice Exams: An Analysis

Items of this type always have the correct answer as one of the choices, except where a ‘none of the above’ option is given. Only one option is correct, save for those extremely rare cases where two of the given choices are considered right. As you’ll see later on, knowing how to look at this kind of exam plays a part in strategies you can use for it.

Because each choice has to be taken at face value as a possible direct response to the item question, multiple choice exams very rarely ask analytical or interpretative questions, focusing more often on objective ones. There lies their difficulty: you’ll have to have a good grasp of definitions and fundamental facts for the exam. Bluffing and roundabout essays won’t work in multiple choice exams, though certain strategies can help.

To challenge students even more, many teachers and test makers often give two or more answer choices that are very similar to one another. But even when the makers create an exam to be straightforward, answer choices can also be ambiguous at times. This means your language and context must be more or less similar with that of the test designers.

Although countless combinations of individual answer choices exist, they can be grouped into three distinct kinds:

  • there are items where the choices look alike (shortened to CLA, for the purposes of this discussion). Items with CLA choices try to confuse you by giving a set of responses that are so similar in wording and appearance.
  • And then there are items where the choices are different (CAD). Although these seem to be on the other side of the spectrum from CLA, they have the exact same requirement: your knowing exactly what to answer.
  • Stand-out choices (SOC) do just that – stand out. In, say, a five-choice item, you are given four CLA choices and one that starkly stands out. Don’t be fooled! The unique choice is just as likely as the others to be incorrect.
  • Mix-and-match items have answer choices that are split up into two or more parts which are then mixed and matched between each choice. This can be confusing, and is usually used on questions referring to components and processes.

The four types are all subsumed under the multiple choice category, but there’s a specific way to strategically deal with each kind.

When Choices Look Alike

Say you were given a question and corresponding answer choices that looks like this:

Which presents stages of mitosis in the correct order?

a) Prophase – Metaphase – Interphase – Telophase

b) Prophase – Metaphase – Anaphase – Telophase

c) Prophase – Metaphase – Prometaphase – Telophase

d) Prophase – Metaphase – Cytokinesis – Telophase

This is clearly an item with a case of CLA, as all the choices are identical save for each one’s third stage. Even if you studied the terms related to mitosis, you’d still have trouble getting to the correct answer if you don’t know the exact process. Here’s how to make an educated guess in this case.

If you read about interphase, you’d know that it’s the preparatory stage of mitosis. But if it’s a preparatory step – that is, it occurs at the start – why does it appear as the third step? This eliminates A. Similarly, you’d know that cytokinesis is the very last step, and so D would get disqualified as well.

The term ‘prometaphase’ sounds like a portmanteau of prophase and metaphase, which in turn suggests that it’s a transitionary phase between prophase and metaphase. But since it appears after both prophase and metaphase in the choices, you can eliminate C as the right answer,  leaving you with B – the correct response.

Consider only the important parts where the differences are placed; in this case, you only have to look at the third step of each process. Since the rest of the text in the choices are identical anyway, they only serve as distractions in CLA items.

When Choices are Different

How would you deal with a multiple choice item that looked like this:

Based on the proposed timeline of evolution, which of the following structures are likeliest to develop first?

a) head

b) bones

c) opposable limbs

d) feet

This is a good example of a CAD item, as each choice is different from all the others. It might seem that knowing the exact answer to this question is the only way to deal with the item, but there’s actually another way to get points out of it.

You could start by analyzing for any possible relationships between any of the choices. In this case of a Biology question, for example, you could use your common sense to say that bones (or at least some rigid support structure) are a prerequisite for both opposable limbs and feet to emerge. With this, you could immediately eliminate C and D and thus give yourself a higher chance of getting the right answer.

Finding that correct answer requires a little more study on your part. Sometimes, though, the key to getting the right choice is simply finding an example that will support one answer or the other. In this case, you might want to try recalling that the development of a basic head – cephalization – occurs in groups as old as annelids, while bones emerge much, much later in evolution. This suggests that A is the correct choice.

You can rely on the uniqueness of the answer for each item to help point out a plausible answer. Once you’re able to create relationships between different, you’ll also be able to eliminate one or two choices at a time because one is subsumed under the other.

When One Item Stands Out

It cannot be stressed enough that having one answer choice distinct from the rest is never a guarantee that it’s the right one. In the following question, for example, you can’t be sure that A is the correct answer simply because it stands out.

You are in the laboratory preparing a homogeneous solution made of two different substances to a specific concentration. What would be the best course of action if you accidentally added too much solvent?

a) Add more solute

b) Add more solvent

c) Add more solute and solvent

d) Dispose of the solution and start over

To the strategy-less test taker, D is the most tempting choice because it’s the odd one out of the bunch. But if you take a few extra seconds to analyze the question and the choices, the correct answer should be fairly obvious. Since the problem is too much solvent, B and C are immediately wrong because they add even more solvent. And because adding more solute to fix the solute-solvent ratio is a valid remedy, there’s no need to resort to D.

Never settle for the odd one out just because it’s the odd one out. Use other strategies that work equally well for SOC items. When you disregard the odd one out, for example, you can use the same strategy you did for CLA. If you’re not able to get an answer that way, then chances are good that it’s really the odd choice out that’s the correct one.

When the Items are Mixed and Matched

Mix-and-match items tend to be quite confusing, not in the least because all the items are so similar to each other yet have very different meanings. Try this question, for example

Given a closed system, which pair of conditions will most likely accompany an increase in volume of the container?

a) constant pressure, constant temperature

b) constant pressure, lower temperature

c) higher pressure, lower temperature

d)                lower pressure, constant temperature

As you can see, the answer choices are split into two parts: the factor (temperature or pressure) and the change in that factor (higher, lower or constant). In order to answer this question, you’ll have to know about one of the more basic equations in Chemistry: PV = nRT. That fundamental concept will guide you toward D, the correct answer.

The important thing to remember is that all of the parts of each answer must be correct in order for the choice itself to be correct. As soon as one part is erroneous, the choice itself becomes incorrect. Don’t forget to also consider situations like the example above where the parts can go hand-in-hand with each other.

Multiple Strategies for Multiple Choices

As a test-taking strategy, guessing is simply the worst way to go about answering a multiple choice exam, even when your study time was short of optimal. Strategy-based approaches are simply the best way to attack a multiple choice test and make sure that you get as high a score as possible.

  • Eliminate choices as soon as you can. Even if you end up getting left with two choices that look equally correct, you have a higher chance of getting the right answer should you resort to guessing.

  • Look at the wording, especially for answer choices that look very similar. Little changes in tense or object can alter the meaning of the statement in a big way.

  • Question absolutes. These generalizations are rarely correct because there’s often one or two exceptions to them. When you see buzzwords like always or never, be on your guard and check to determine any counter-examples.

  • Do the easy ones first. Time pressure is very real in multiple choice exams, so don’t give too much time and effort to any one item. Besides, this is futile because many exams give equal weight to both easy and difficult items.

  • Allot time for multiple runs. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll finish all of the test questions on your first go. Split the test time up such that you leave yourself some margin to go back on all those questions you skipped the first time around.

Yes, the strategies outlined above can help you boost your score in any multiple choice exam. A good score, however, always starts with sufficient study and review prior to the test. Even if you’re familiar with all the techniques above, passing will be difficult if you don’t have a grasp on basic concepts to begin with.

Choosing your UPCAT Review Center: A Practical Guide


It’s UPCAT season again.  Let’s say that you have a 50/50 chance of passing the UP entrance test.  In that case, the choice of an UPCAT review center can make or break your hopes of getting into UP.  The scales could tip either way.  Choose the correct UP entrance exam review center not only will you get into the premier University in the country, you [or better yet your parents] will also benefit from the significantly lower tuition rates.  Choose the wrong UP Review center and not only do you squander your chances of getting a head start, you will have also wasted a perfectly good summer.

This begs the question:  how exactly do you choose the best UPCAT review center?

Different UPCAT review centers will answer differently depending upon their strengths and weaknesses; naturally, they’ll always tell you that they are the best choice for your UP review needs.

Different criteria will also give you different answers.  Several factors that will come into play are price, proximity of UP review classes,  locations, and add-on features, etc.  These will have different weights among the parents of UPCAT takers.

The following is a discussion of the factors that you should consider if you want to increase your chances (or your child’s chances) of passing the UP entrance test.  Remember to the following tips when evaluating a potential UPCAT review center for yourself or your children:


The following are the factors that are rather useless when evaluating college entrance test review centers:

Passing Rate:

Don’t ever, ever, ever think that the passing rate advertised by a particular UP review center is the most important or even a trustworthy criterion for choosing your UPCAT review center.

Of course, the passing rate is important, but keep in mind that the college entrance exam review center industry here in the Philippines is unregulated by the government.  This means that UPCAT review centers can (and do) pretty much use any of the many standards used in computing passing rates.  Some review centers use a variation or one of the following:

  • number of passers in their star section over the number of students in that section
  • number of sci-hi student passers over the total number of sci hi students in all UPCAT review classes
  • number of passers from current and previous years over the number of current review students

Basically, some review centers are not above lying to entice students and their parents to enroll in their UPCAT review program.  They can actually claim any passing rate, and you will not know any better!  In fact, UP itself has posted a special notice about UPCAT Review Centers.

Unless you have counted and verified the total number of students enrolled in that center for that particular batch and unless you have counted and verified that the passers have indeed enrolled in that particular center and batch, how can you be sure that the UPCAT review center is giving you a straight answer?

Imagine 2010 presidentiables counting their own votes, he he.  Review centers counting their own passing rate is a very good example of a conflict of interest.

Years in the Business

You can easily check the number of years that an UPCAT review center has been in business.  Even if a UP review center has been around for a hundred years or so, however, what will that tell you?  Will the number of years in business be a good determinant of the effectiveness of the UP review center’s instruction?  In some cases yes, but I’ve seen review centers that have survived more than 5 years all because of its advertising base [as opposed to its quality of review].  Consider that UP itself is not the oldest university in the country, but it’s definitely the best.

Referrals vs Comparison

Most parents and students depend upon the referral of friends, relatives and even classmates/ co-reviewers when it comes to choosing their UP review centers.  When choosing among any other products or services, referrals can be very effective.  However, unless the source of referral has enrolled in or have heard about enough UPCAT review centers to make a decent comparison, don’t put too much stock on UPCAT review centers referred by friends, relatives and acquaintances.

In this sense, UPCAT review services are much like wedding photography services.  Most people will only avail of it once, which is not enough of a basis to make an informed comparison.

If you want the best UPCAT review center there is, do your own comparison shopping.  Contrast and compare the features of the different UPCAT review programs and choose what YOU think is best for you.

Titles of Instructors

Unless the instructor has been acclaimed as one of the best teachers in the Philippines, all their extra titles (e.g. PhD, M.A., M.S., Eng’r, Doctor, etc.) won’t help you pass the UPCAT.  Titles are impressive, and a lot of people put great stock in them.  Consider this, however.

Does it take a PhD or a doctoral degree to teach high school math or science effectively?

No, unless your taking the entrance exam to the nuclear quantum supergeek college in the Philippines [which doesn’t exist btw].  Choose review programs with effective, engaging and creative instructors instead.  You’ll find that you’ll be able to learn more from him than that mumbling grumbling PhD professor who likes staring at the blackboard more than making eye contact with his students.  Keep in mind the ability to effectively teach students is very different from IQ.

Registration Rate

Quality costs money.  The college entrance exam review, especially the review for UPCAT, is not like some new Nike shoes that will not have any long-lasting effect in your life [unless you trip over them and fall down the stairs, breaking both your legs and busting your kneecaps].  Passing the UPCAT is more important than shoes, yet some people are willing to pay for Nike originals than a quality UP review program.

If you want quality UPCAT review classes, then don’t expect them to cost you only a few hundred pesos.  UP Free reviews exist if you want refresher courses.  However, if you want the real McCoy, pay for UP review classes.  Better yet, be prepared to shell out some hard cash for them.

Should you win a spot in UP, the college tuition savings alone will repay your small investment now a thousand fold.  So do you really want to have a better shot in getting to UP or do you want to save money?  Answer really carefully.

Review Location

The same goes for review location.  Choosing an UPCAT review center just because it happens to be conveniently located is just like choosing to give birth to a baby at home instead of going to the hospital because you didn’t want a long commute.


Given the lack of industry standards as well as the lack of government regulation in the UPCAT review center industry, your only hope of weeding the chaff out of the grain is to do your own research and study.  Easier said than done, you might say.  Well here are a few pointers to get you going in the right track.  Use the following criteria to choose the right UPCAT review center for you or for your child.

Review Program

Do check out the review program of the UPCAT review centers you are considering.  This is a good way of filtering out the fly-by-night, mosquito or copycat review centers in your list.  Moreover, this will also give you a good idea of the relevance and scope of the UP review program being offered.

A good review program includes not just a comprehensive and relevant discussion of the academic subjects covered in the UPCAT (namely, UP Math, UP Science, UP Reading, UP Language) but also college seminars that are relevant and helpful to students who are about to traverse several crossroads of life (how deep, he he he).  The following are some useful seminars for incoming college freshmen:

  • Career Path Seminar: This should give you an insight as to which college course is the best for you.  It takes taking into account not just future salary potential but your own strengths and weaknesses, your inclinations, your hobbies, and your interests.
  • Diagnostic and Simulation Exams: The first will give you the means to evaluate your initial chances of passing the UPCAT and how much work needs to be done in order to increase the odds in your favor.  The latter will give you your final UPCAT predicted grade as well as a glimpse on how effective the UPCAT review was for you.

In a good review program, the difference between your diagnostic and simulation exam will be large [this means that you’ve learned a lot during the review].  Hopefully, by the time you take your simulation exam, your review grades are hitting the 80 – 85% mark.

Watch out for review centers giving out simulation exams that are much easier than the diagnostic exam!  This should warn you that the review center is skewing its results for its own gain.

  • UPG seminar

Contrary to popular opinion, your high school grades and your UPCAT grade are not the sole factors that are considered by UP in determining whether or not you will be accepted to UP.

A lot of other factors such as your province, your family’s income bracket, your school, your course choices, your campus choices, etc. are also taken into account.  Answering these questions optimally in the first place just might give you a lot more edge over other students who have taken the summer UP review.  This is why you should look for a seminar about UPG or university predicted grade when choosing your review center.

  • Instructional or Game Type

How the review is conducted will also play a large part on whether you will learn much from the UP review classes or not.  If the classroom type/instructional method did not work for you for the previous 4 years in high school, then what are the chances that you will find the same method in a review class useful?

If you find it a lot easier to memorize Ragnarok unit stats, damage points and level up stats or if you find it easier to learn more from GKNB or Pera o Bayong than in school, then a game-type review may be a better fit for you.

  • Traditional or Peer-to-Peer

Studies show that peer-to-peer instruction is a lot more effective in learning than the traditional classroom-type review.  By peer-to-peer instruction, we mean classes that involve peer-to-peer interaction, group studies and group work.  Traditional classroom instruction, on the other hand, is teacher-focused and students are pretty much on their own.

Why is peer-to-peer more effective?  Just think.  Won’t the facts stick better when it’s your crush discussing thermodynamics with you?  Your heart will be on overdrive and your adrenalin will be pumping so chances are high that you will recall more of your lessons.  Peer to peer instruction also doesn’t have the age or status hindrance present in traditional learning settings.

This is not to say that instructors should be removed from the review program altogether, but do look for a review program that inserts peer-to-peer instruction during no-review days.

Review Materials

Do check out the quality of the review materials that are being offered by the UP review center.  More often than not, they are a reflection of how organized, comprehensive and structured the review program is.  For example:

  • Xeroxed Modules: This may be an indication that that particular review center has plagiarized the review materials of another.  It may also be an indication of a slipshod review program where modules are rife with duplicate questions, errors and typos.
  • Reviewers: The availability of original reviewers aside from the usual exam modules is an indication of a well-planned review program.  Do check if the subjects are well-summarized and organized.  You wouldn’t want to spend 6 years reading a reviewer that’s supposed to summarize your high school subjects!
  • Additional Sources: As most review classes are not held daily and you’ll have an extra day here and there for yourself, do look for review centers that includes take home assignments and quizzes as well as additional sources that will further increase the effectiveness of the review.
  • Blackboard Instruction or Presentation/Demos:  The inclusion of Demos, PowerPoint presentations, hands-on experiential learning activities, exhibits, etc. are also plus points when it comes to choosing the best UPCAT review centers.  These show that the center has taken the time, money and effort to make the review as effective, painless and interesting as possible for the students.  Moreover, with presentations, you get more value for your money as time will not be wasted waiting for the instructor to stop scribbling on the board.

Effectiveness of Instructors

At the heart of effective reviews are effective instructors.  Do they engage their students while teaching?  Do they use analogies to make the concepts simpler?  Do they make full use of illustrations, group work, etc?  Do they discipline those that are unruly in class so that learning for those that do want to learn is not compromised?

More often that not, you will be surprised at how far the actual review is from the ‘best/great/excellent review’ these centers promise in their brochures.

Length of Review

Put simply, the length of the review is usually directly proportional to the amount of learning the students benefit from.  Our research into this matter shows that it will take a minimum [note the word minimum] of 60 hours of review in order for all the pertinent subjects to be covered.  So make sure to include the length of the review in your consideration when choosing your review center.

Think of your choice of an UPCAT review center as memory pills capable of helping you prepare for your exam.  Some will have all the ads, fanfare and razzle dazzle shown in the media but prove to be actually ineffective in doing its job.  Some will be generic, cheap but just as ineffective as the best of them.  Some will be the genuine product and yet some will be like those meds given by quack doctors.  Whatever your choice may be, do tell us about how it turned out when the UPCAT results are posted. 🙂

Are UPCAT Reviews Really Effective?

Is a UP entrance exam  review your ticket to passing the UPCAT and getting into the University of the Philippines?  This is a question that gets asked yearly by thousands of 3rd year and 4th year high school students [who wish to take every possible avenue to pass the UP entrance test] and their parents [who are concerned about the cost of UP reviews].  So, is enrolling in a college entrance review, UPCAT review in particular, really effective?

To answer that question, consider the following:  the UPCAT or the UP entrance test basically covers all of the pertinent subjects taken during your 4 years in high school [trigo, algebra, arithmetic, geometry, gen sci, biology, chemistry, physics, reading comprehension, grammar, etc, etc, etc].  Now, if you slacked off during the past 4 years in school, can the 4 weeks of UP review compensate for it?  Can you cram 4 years’ worth of education into 4 weeks of summer review classes?

In fact, this particular question gets asked too much that UP itself launched a study to investigate the matter.  What it found out is the fact that, although UPCAT review classes raise the confidence and experience level of UPCAT takers, there is no conclusive evidence that enrolling in UP reviews or UPCAT review classes significantly increases the chances of a student actually passing the UPCAT.

In the end, UPCAT reviews are just that, UP entrance test reviews.  They’re not a last minute magic brain booster pill, not an academic ‘nitro’ that suddenly increases your chances of getting into UP from 0% to 90% [regardless of what a UPCAT review center claims its UPCAT results passing rate to be], and certainly not a ‘cheat’ that undoes every bad grade you have gotten for the past four years.

Don’t get too depressed though and don’t go window shopping in Recto for fake UP diplomas just yet.  UPCAT reviews may not be able to guarantee you a spot in UP, they can still be beneficial to a non-slacker who wishes to pass the UPCAT.

What exactly can a UP Review accomplish?

  1. Experience: At the very least, you’re not going to panic [tear up your UP entrance exam papers, jump off the window, poke the proctor in the eye with your pencil, etc.] come UPCAT time.  Through an UPCAT review, you’ll get time and opportunity to adjust to the time constraints as well as pressures of the actual UP entrance test.  Remember, a mental block during the actual UPCAT can just as easily kill your chances of passing the test as slacking off for the past 4 years.
  1. Focus: UPCAT reviews will also be able to help you a lot in focusing, organizing and scheduling your time, energy and efforts.  That is, a UP review will give you a system of studying for the UP entrance test.  At the very least, you won’t be spending hours just staring blankly at your stack of old high school textbooks or memorizing the periodic table or El Filibusterismo, only to find out that the things you have studied are not included in the UPCAT.  Through a UP review, you’ll be able to hone yourself on subject matters that have a high probability of appearing in the actual UP entrance test.


Are UP reviews really effective?

Here’s the long and short of it.

If you have been a generally good student all your high school life (you listened to your teachers, studied your textbooks and diligently learned your high school lessons), UP reviews will be a great help.  UP review classes will help you remember what you have learned in high school, give you that boost of confidence to sit the UP entrance exam and provide you with valuable experience that can help you finish the individual UP entrance test sections on time.

If you want to learn what you have failed (or were too uncaring) to learn in high school, however, no amount of reviewing for the UPCAT will help you.

Whatever the case may be, if you’re thinking of enrolling in UPCAT Review classes, here is a practical  Guide to Choosing your UPCAT Review Center As well as some tips in maximizing your UPCAT Review.

Practical Guide: Reviewing for College Entrance Exams

UP, ADMU, DLSU, and UST are calling.  Oh you want more than anything to respond – but there’s a hitch.  There’s the UPCAT, the ACET, the DLSUCET, and the USTET to go through.  These college entrance exams are like the proverbial eye of the needle that lets through only a few; namely, those who are well prepared to take their challenge.

Oh good, you are from a great science high school.  Then you probably have good background and should be fine during the college entrance exams.  Even with all your considerable training, however, you’d probably want to enroll in college entrance review seminars.  The human mind is a powerful thing, I grant you that, but sometimes it needs to brush up on things it had previously learned – especially when things as serious as your chances of getting into a premiere university is at stake.  Thus, be prepared (be very prepared) before you take any of your scheduled college entrance tests.

If this is your first time to prepare for an entrance test, fret not.  Here are a few guidelines to help you get started and to make the experience less of a hassle.

Reviewing Hard, Reviewing Smart

Your first order of business is to determine the specific college that you wish to attend.

Sure you are probably going to sit for as many college entrance exams as you can manage just to ensure that you’ll not run out of options.  Nevertheless, you need to have a priority list.  Rank your choices from your number one option to your last choice.

There are two reasons for this:  one, it will help you focus your efforts and your energy more on doing well on that college’s entrance exam; two, it will also determine your approach for the test.

If you’re going for review classes, it’s usually a better idea to attend the ones designed to help you ace a specific school’s exam rather than attending the more comprehensive review types.

Choosing Your Review Institution

It’s tempting to just grab the first review class that makes itself available, but flee the temptation to do so.  Ask around first.  Find out what review institutions have to offer and join the one that you think best suits your review needs.  If you prefer a smaller group or a private tutor, go for the one that provides what you want and need.

Practice Makes…

I hate to disagree with Ai Ai (you know what I mean, “since we can’t be perfect, why practice?“) but you need practice – and lots of it.

Focus on your strengths, but do allot some time to work on your weaknesses.  For example, if you tend to think that Math is a four-letter word (and it does not begin with the letter M), try practicing some mathematical computations with those who are more adept at them

Successfully completing entrance exams is a skill, and skills get better with practice.  One good way of gaining confidence early on is to challenge yourself with timed mock exams during your review classes or even when you’re “practicing” by yourself at home.  While practically all tests contain an element of time pressure, future UPCAT, ACET, DLSUCET, and USTET exam takers will find this tip particularly useful.

Besides these, you may also opt to take a refresher course to keep the lessons ingrained in your system.  There are review institutions that offer this, so again, ask around.

The Matter of the Mind

Napoleon Hill once said, “Whatever the mind of man can perceive, his body can achieve.”  Take the time to visit the exam venue long before the actual day of the exam.  Visualize each and every detail as if you’re taking the test on the big day.

Imagine yourself answering each question quickly and efficiently.  In your mind’s eye, see yourself passing the exam with flying colors.  This exercise in creative visualization can actually help you perform significantly better once it happens.

Prepare well, yet don’t let the preparations puff you up.  Always remember that great schools are highly selective, and that a lot of other people may just be as prepared as you are.  Always give it your best shot then keep your fingers crossed.

Moral Support and Divine Grace

Be sure to involve a support group in your efforts.  No one really succeeds alone.  Let your relatives and friends know what you’re doing so that they can cheer you up and on.  Their encouragement will be a big help to you.

Finally, remember to pray.  Besides the obvious benefits of doing so, prayer also calms the mind.  When your mind is at peace, the answers to the college entrance exam questions should come (subject, of course, to your actual knowledge of them, he he he).