How to Tackle MCQs on the CPA Exam

Multiple Questions

When it comes to test taking, multiple choice questions are probably one of the oldest and most known forms of examination in the books (and known to man!). While youve learned that the process of elimination is one of the most powerful ways to approach MCQs, weve listed some additional tips and tricks that can help you immensely when it comes to preparing and tackling them on the CPA exam.

What is the purpose of MCQs? 
But before we delve into those tips and tricks, here are a few interesting facts you may (or may not) know about why MCQs are the most popular way of assessing someones knowledge.
The purpose of a MCQ is to measure a candidates understanding of a specified content area. There are usually three types of MCQs which call for a different type of response: Recall, Interpretation, and Problem Solving.

Recall questions simply ask candidates to recall or recognize a fact. An example of this would be the following:

This is the sound a dog makes:
               a. Meow
               b. Moo
               c. Woof
               d. Neigh

Interpretation questions require candidates to use their base knowledge to interpret data or other information to come to some conclusion:

The dogs stomach was growling, probably because he was
               a. Sleepy
               b. Hungry
               c. Excited
               d. Shameful

Problem solving questions require the candidate to assess a situation, synthesize it with information from their base of knowledge, and then solve a problem or make a decision correctly:

Fred is an avid dog lover. Hes walking his dog down the street one sunny afternoon when a dog with no collar follows them home. Fred would
               a. Keep it
               b. Take pictures of it and post lost and found posters around the neighborhood
               c. Drive it to the animal shelter
               d. Walk around door-to-door and see if it belongs to anyone

The answer choices to all MCQs will always include a keyed correct response or three to four distractors or foils. Sometimes the answer will be clear as day, as is the case with most recall questions if you know the content. The interpretation and problem solving questions can be a bit more difficult to discern. For example, youll notice that in the problem solving answer choices, both B and D seem correct; however, trigger words such as sunny afternoon and avid dog lover propose that D is the most correct answer. Because theres still daylight out, Fred would probably go door-to-door before resorting to poster making. In many cases, you will have to choose the most correct answer in a batch of very probable answers. Here are some tips and tricks for how to study and tackle those MCQs on the CPA exam.

Identify the question type: If you know whether the question is a recall, interpretation, or problem solving, then you can better understand what the expected response should be. Sometimes MCQs will be a particular type of question, but will give you varied responses that dont match the question type. So if its asking you to problem solve, look for an answer that solves the problem and isnt disguised as an interpretation or recall response. This will better frame your answer choices.

Connect key words: In the same way that you have to figure out the meaning of an unknown word based on the surrounding words in the sentence (we call this context clues), you should do the same with MCQs. Pay attention key words and phrases that speak beyond what the question is asking you and tells you something more about the possible answer. When choosing an answer choice, see how it connects back to those key words and if they match up. Similarly, if youre being asked a question you dont know the answer to, this would be a good area to use those context clues and key words to break down the question and deduce the best possible response.

Answer without looking: This ones an oldie but a goodie. Youve probably done this already, but a great way to continue studying for the exam and to continually test yourself is to read the question first, and then provide your own answer without looking at the answer choices. This really tests your knowledge on the subject and, whats better, assures that you dont get sidetracked from your original instinct when looking at the other answer options. There will be an occasion when perhaps there will be an option that mixes your answer with other components or theres actually a better option altogether. By all means, pick the one thats the best, but just remember that this is a good way to apply what youve learned.

Narrow down: In times of uncertainty, the process of elimination is always the best way to go. Dont panic in getting a question that seems completely foreign to you upon first impression. Go through the key words, break down the question as much as possible, and then narrow down the answer choices based on your context clues. Even if youre only able to rule out just one option, thats good; youre in better shape than you were a few seconds ago!

Use the true/false technique: If youve used the process of elimination and you come across two similar answers that both seem plausible, translate the question into a true or false statement with each of the possible answers; afterward, select the one that is true. Use this technique to differentiate between the slight nuances that similar answers usually present.

Always verify your answers: Sometimes youll get a question you automatically know the answer to, see that answer as the first option, choose it, pat yourself on the back, and move on because you just aced that question in 7 seconds or less. We definitely encourage that level of confidence; however, ALWAYS DOUBLE CHECK YOUR ANSWERS AND ANSWER CHOICES! Remember that time you got your Biology test back and saw that you missed a question because you didnt read all the answer choices? Yup. Turns out there was an all of the above option on the MCQ you answered in 7 seconds that you failed to recognize because you didnt read all of the answer options nor go back to double check! Simple mistakes like these can be the difference between a 74 and a 75and rememberyou want that 75 to pass! So make sure you read all the answer options before choosing one, and that you go back and double check your answers (especially the ones youre iffy about) if you have the extra time! Trust us–youll be glad you did!

Another great way to use MCQs to your advantage is to boost your study skills while youre prepping for the exam. Whenever you are practicing with a MCQ section, summarize why the answer you chose is either right or wrong when youre putting it through the wringer. If you dont know why the answer is right or wrongfind out! This is an excellent way to reinforce knowledge you already have about the topic and to apply it to the question. This is also a good way to go back and review concepts or topics that may have evaded you the first time. Rememberpassing the exam isnt about just memorizing the answer to the questions. Its about understanding the concept and applying it, and this is a good technique to use to ensure that your understanding is solid.

We hope these tips and techniques are helpful to you during your next Exam window or during your next practice test. Happy studying!

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