Keywords: what is an mcq exam?, how to succeed at mcqs, mcq, multiple choice, exams, revision, strategies, study skills, help, how to, improve
Description: What is an MCQ exam? - How to succeed at MCQs. A mondofacto exam skills topic to help you succeed at MCQs..
Medical school examiners love multiple choice questions (MCQs), because they're great at testing your factual knowledge, objective (they're marked by a computer, so there's no chance of favouritism), don't suffer from variations in marking, and are quick and easy to mark - which is important when you have hundreds of students. However, MCQs can't be used to test practical skills, such as how you communicate with or examine patients - this is where the OSCE comes in, but that's a whole other topic.
If you've spent any time at all at medical school, you'll be familiar with the MCQ style of exam. If you're new to medical education, however, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about, in which case it's highly likely that you've never before sat an exam that can result in a negative score. Yes that's right, not just a low score, but a score in minus figures! Some medical schools use negative marking, and some don't - you need to find out whether your does. Back in the day, all medical schools used negative making, so it is perhaps little wonder that med students believe their degree courses to be more difficult than most.
Nowadays not all MCQ exams are negatively marked; if your medical school doesn't use negative marking, you are indeed fortunate, and you can skip the parts of the course that cover negatively marked MCQs. However, it's worth bearing in mind that most postgraduate exams are still negatively marked, so if you don't need the advice on coping with negative marking now, it will come in handy in the future.
If your exams are negatively marked, you'll be given one mark for a correct answer, no mark for an unanswered question, or a 'don't know', and you'll have one mark deducted for a wrong answer. Doesn't sound too bad, you're thinking, I'll just hedge my bets and leave anything I'm not sure of, but it's not that straightforward. Consider the following scenario:
You are answering an MCQ exam which has 100 questions. You answer 70 questions and leave the 30 you're not sure of. You can now only achieve a maximum score of 70%. However, you only get 80% of the 70 questions you answered correct. That gives you 56 out of 70, but with negative marking you loose one mark for every question you get wrong, so that's 14 marks deducted from your score of 56 - leaving you with a less-than-impressive 42.
What would have happened if you'd made an educated guess for the 30 questions you weren't sure about?
You decide to take a chance with the 30 tricky questions, and using a process of educated guessing, deduction and blind faith you answer all 30. Luck is with you and you get half the questions correct - that's 15 out of 30. However, with negative marking that gives you a net score of 0 for these 30 questions. Your overall score for the test is still 42.
You're no better off than before, but you're no worse off either, so is it worth having a go? Consider what would happen if you were very unlucky:
You decide to try to answer the 30 troublesome questions; however, you only manage to get 10 out of 30 correct. 20 incorrect answers gives you a score of -10. This -10 will be deducted from the 42 you scored for the remaining 70 questions, giving a net score of 32 - disaster!
You decide to try to answer the 30 troublesome questions; you're having a good day, and manage to get 20 of them correct. This gives you a net score of 10. Now you have scored a not unrespectable 52.
"I'll never pass", you're thinking, but relax, with the right preparation and technique you'll pass with flying colours. Read on to find out how to prepare effectively for an MCQ exam, and how to hone your question answering technique.
First we'll start with the basics: what does a typical MCQ look like? Take a look at the example below: