ASVAB: Understanding Multiple-Choice Questions

Because the ASVAB is made up of multiple-choice questions and each question has four choices, you must understand that, to begin with, you have a 25 percent chance of guessing correctly, merely by closing your eyes and selecting an answer. However, if you understand how multiple-choice questions are constructed, it will be somewhat easier to approach these questions. For each question, there is only one correct answer. The other three choices are incorrect.

There are levels of incorrectness. Some choices are more wrong than others. In test-development language, these incorrect answers are called distractors, because they distract you from the correct answer. You may find one choice that is almost correct, but not quite right. Another choice may be completely incorrect. And the third choice may be almost right, almost wrong, or totally incorrect.

If you think you know the correct answer without even looking at the other choices, you're probably right. Most studies have shown that your first instinct is usually correct. Those who do poorly on multiple-choice tests are those who overanalyze the question. They think they know the answer, but then start to question their choice.

For example, if you were asked the following question, what would you select?

The Washington Monument is located in

A. the state of Washington.

B. New York City.

C. Washington, D.C.

D. Chicago.

The correct choice would be C, Washington, D.C. However, the overthinker starts to get concerned and thinks, "This question is too easy. I wonder if it's asking about some other Washington Monument-maybe there's another one in Washington state."

Now, this is a very simplistic example, but it is actually what happens to you if you analyze a question too much. Read the question for what it is. The questions are not tricky. The trick is in choosing the answers.

Because you don't lose any points for guessing, understanding how to guess and improve your odds is helpful. The multiple-choice questions on this test have four choices, so your odds are 1 out of 4 that you can pick correctly. To put it another way, you have a 25 percent chance of guessing correctly.

These aren't great odds, so you have to find a way to increase them. To do so, you use the process of elimination. Start by eliminating any answers that you know are completely incorrect. In the earlier question, you might be reasonably sure that the Washington Monument isn't located in Chicago, so you can eliminate choice D. Now you have to select the correct answer out of only three choices-1 out of 3, or 33 percent. You've just increased your odds from 25 percent to 33 percent.

How do you get to the next level? Suppose that you know that the Washington Monument is on the East Coast. You can eliminate Washington state. You only have two choices-1 out of 2, 50 percent. The odds are getting better. You may be confused as to whether the Washington Monument is in New York City or Washington, D.C., but you can take a guess, and you have a reasonable chance of guessing correctly. Of course, if you knew the answer immediately, you got it right-and that's 100 percent.

How can you use this technique to increase your score on the entire test? For example, there are 225 questions on the pencil/paper ASVAB. If you know the answers to 150 questions, you've already reached a score of 66 percent. That leaves only 100 questions for which you don't know the answers immediately. It is important, however, that you answer all of the questions on the test, and now you can make educated guesses. If you can increase your odds to 50 percent on each of the questions you're not sure about, you've now answered another 50 questions correctly-a total of 185 out of 225 questions-a score of 82 percent. Not bad.

Therefore, it makes sense to guess. Whether it's an educated guess or just a blind guess, you increase your odds of improving your score on every question.