Best strategy for negatively marked exam?
May 14, 2011 10:13 AM   Subscribe

What strategies can be used to do well in a negatively marked exam?

In the exam each question will have 5 multiple choice answers, with +1 mark for the correct answer and -0.25 marks for each wrong answer.

I understand that guessing should give you no advantage or disadvantage on average, but that if you can rule out any of the answers then you should guess between the rest (as now the sum of the possibilites is greater than 0).

However, when the system was explained, I was told that there was another way you could use it to your advantage. I presume this wasn't something like knowing the material really well, so what is the best way to tackle an exam like this?

(I realise that this is no substitue for knowing the material, but want to have all the advantage I can.)
posted by nvsbl to Education (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If time is or could be an issue, skip questions you're not sure about and answer the ones you know -- then go back to the other ones and go with the guessing strategy described in your question.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:23 AM on May 14, 2011

On the first pass, only put in the answers you're sure you of. If you don't know, skip it immediately. We'll be back.

On the second pass, discount answers you're sure are wrong. Don't answer yet.

Finally, last pass, on those questions that have three or less options left, pick one either randomly or best-guess. On average that means you should lose half a point, getting two wrong, for every point you gain by getting one right, putting you comfortably ahead.

In theory once you can discount just one answer of the five, that means you should see an average of a quarter-point gain for every four questions, but that's cutting it a little thin for me.
posted by mhoye at 10:25 AM on May 14, 2011

This was the standard grading system for Advanced Placement multiple choice tests. If you're thinking about strategies for the AP test, be aware that the grading changed this year to a straight +1, 0 system. +1 for a correct answer, no penalty for an incorrect answer.

AP Central- Multiple Choice Scoring Change
posted by jz at 10:28 AM on May 14, 2011

Are you talking about a standardized test, or an "ordinary" test written by ordinary teachers or professors?

If the latter, you should be aware that multiple choice tests are hard to write, and so people take some shortcuts in writing them. For example, "none of the above" is rarely the correct answer -- it's usually just there to cover the professor's ass in the case when there turned out to be something wrong with the question.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:30 AM on May 14, 2011

Is there only one correct answer per question? That seems to be what you're saying. I've had exams with this sort of scoring where any number of the choices could be correct, which changes the whole guessing thing.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:32 AM on May 14, 2011

Thanks jz, but this isn't an AP test. It is a test written by professors, not standardised.

That's a good point about "none of the above" but we had a few example questions, and it was the answer to one of them so while it might be unlikely, I'm not willing to rule it out completely!
posted by nvsbl at 10:33 AM on May 14, 2011

I'm not saying you should rule it out completely. But if you're guessing, guess something else.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:52 AM on May 14, 2011

Also, sometimes you can get lucky and find the answer in a later question, or see one of the options used as an answer to a different question. So when you make your second pass, look for "logical impossibilities" (there's got to be a word for it, but this is what I always think) in the answers that let you discount them.
posted by nile_red at 10:59 AM on May 14, 2011

I can't find a cite for it now, but on more than one occasion I've heard that re-reading a multiple choice paper to check your results leads to you changing more right answers to wrong than vice versa. In addition if you leave out any answers on the mark sheet on the first pass, you might accidently miss a row, and get out of step, causing a disaster.

For these reasons I never go back over a paper, and I tackle it in sequence. You know that you're going to fill every question, so I would go through just once.

I also strongly recommend thinking about what the examiners must have been thinking when they wrote each question. There's often a teaching point hidden in the question (Does the examinee understand that X is different from Y, does the examinee understand that Z and Y are subsets of X etc). If you're stuck, the psychology of writing a question can often help you out. In my experience a good set of MCQ answers usually looks like this:

A: Correct answer
B: Plausible but wrong because of the wording of the question
C: Opposite of correct answer
D: Plausible but designed to trap someone with superficial knowledge
E: Baloney, because now the examiner can't think of any more options
posted by roofus at 12:31 AM on May 15, 2011

Thanks for all your ideas, I'm sure they will help me in my exam!
posted by nvsbl at 2:04 AM on May 17, 2011

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