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Test-Taking Tactics: Evaluating Answer Choices by Brent Collins

Answer on the basis of the information given in the question. When answering test questions, you must base your answer solely on the information contained in the test question. The test for a Firefighter requires no previous knowledge of the job. The test questions do not have to reflect the way the job is really done or the actual procedures of the Fire Department.

Problems arise when a person who is familiar with procedures of the fire department encounters a test question based on something that contradicts actual practices. It is in this kind of situation that you must ignore actual practices and answer on the basis of what the test question says. For example, you might know that kitchen stove fires are usually extinguished with a portable fire extinguisher; but a test question might describe a stove fire being put out with a fire hose attached to a hydrant. In this kind of test situation, never mind the actual practice; go by the information in the question.

Tell yourself the answer to a question before you look at the answer choices. Sometimes the question is too vague for you to anticipate the answer ahead of time. But often the question stem is a question precise enough for you to answer it before you look at the answer choices. For instance, suppose you had studied the diagram of an apartment and then the question asked, ’The most direct route from the dining room to the fire escape is....’ You should be able to answer this kind of question in your head before you look at the four answer choices. If you answer the question in your head before you look at any of the four answer choices, you are more likely to get the right answer.

Remember that part of the test maker’s job is to provide three false answers for every correct one. It is a multiple-choice test, not a true/false test. A skillful test maker will offer you some false choices that seem pretty good in order to distract you from the correct answer. Among test makers these false choices are called ’distractors.’ But if you have already decided what answer you should be looking for, you will not be distracted so easily by bad answers which might look pretty good and which come before the correct answer. A seductive (A) and a half-true (B) will not prevent you from reaching a correct answer (C) if you know what you are looking for.

Sort answers into three categories. As soon as you read a particular answer choice, decide if it is True, False, or Uncertain. If you are quite sure that an answer choice is True, use your pencil to write a ’T’ in front of that answer choice. But continue to read the other answer choices because you might find another True one and then have to make a final choice.

If you are quite sure that an answer choice is False, use your pencil to write an ’F’ in front of that answer choice. You may find that an answer is False even before you have finished reading the whole answer. Stop reading it as soon as you are sure it is false and mark with an ’F’.

If you are Uncertain about whether a particular answer choice is correct, use your pencil to put a question mark (?) in front of that answer choice.

When you have finished reading all four answer choices, each one should be preceded by a ’T’ or an ’F’ or a question mark (?). If there is only one with a ’T’, that is probably your answer. If you have more than one with a ’T’, or a ’T’ and a question mark, you may need to think a bit before choosing your final answer. But you should not have to bother any more with answers you have already given an ’F’.

Negative Questions: Using ’T’ and ’F’ to evaluate answer choices is better than using something like a check mark to denote a correct answer when it comes to answering negative questions. Negative questions are questions that ask you to pick out an answer choice which is ’not true.’ If you are evaluating each answer choice one by one and marking each one ’T’ or ’F’, negative questions will be easy for you to handle.

Half-true Answers: Sometimes an answer choice really contains two different statements. For instance, an answer choice might say, ’there is a bedroom on the right and the kitchen is on the left.’ Maybe it is True that ’there is a bedroom on the right,’ but False that ’the kitchen is on the left.’ With this kind of answer choice, put a slash mark between the two different statements, and write ’T’ or ’F’ over each separate part of the answer choice. But out in the margin write ’F’ since an answer choice must be completely True to be valid.

When it is difficult to choose between two answer choices, look back at the question stem. Sometimes there are two answer choices which both look good. Or maybe all of the answer choices look bad. When you find yourself having trouble making the final choice of an answer, stop staring at the answer choices. Go back and look at the question stem and the information the question is based on.

A skillful test maker tries to make two or three of the answer choices look very good. All the answer choices may contain some truth, which make them tempting. Or all may look wrong. But the test maker has to have put some detail into the ’fact pattern’ of the question to justify the claim that one of these answers is better than the others. If reviewing the answer choices themselves has not helped, the clue to which answer is correct is likely to be in the question stem or ’fact pattern’ rather than in the answer choices. So go back to the question stem and the fact pattern the look for the deciding factor.

Choose the best answer. A very common problem for test takers is the problem of recognizing that the best possible answer to a question has not been included among the answer choices. None of the answer choices seems to be fully adequate to the situation. In part, this is often a result of the way multiple-choice questions are constructed. The exam maker does not have to include all the correct procedures in answer choices; that might make for terribly long answer choices. Hence, some correct answers are only partial answers. Sometimes you will be given more than one partial answer and asked to choose which is the best among these. In this sort of situation, work at eliminating the answer choices which are definitely wrong or most seriously incomplete. For your answer choose the best one remaining after this kind of elimination process.

About the author:
Brent Collins is currently Assistant Fire Chief, Cleveland Fire Department and President of Don McNea Fire School. He is a very generous and helpful person and is always available to help with your goal to become a firefighter. Visit his website for more information on test taking strategies and advice.


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