Selecting the right option from a list of possible answers is probably the most common assessment method in the world. Such questions are easy to set and mark and are a common feature of exams and test across the globe, including the IELTS reading examination.
Advantages of this method of assessment
This type of question is quick to administer and to check, and, provided they are carefully written, can also be a good indication of whether a candidate understands a particular theory or text. These types of questions can assess a range of different types of information from individual words to comprehension. Modern technology has taken advantage of this form of assessment and even paper based multiple choice exams can be marked very quickly by machines, students shade in a box on an exam paper and these can be scanned by a computer at a fantastic speed. This makes a test both cheap to administer and cheap to mark.
Drawbacks of multiple choice questions
There are quite a few criticisms of multiple choice questions. For a start they can’t check deep knowledge of a subject in the way that a question with even a very short answer can. Indeed, a candidate can guess the answers and get a question correct without having any knowledge at all. Statistically, someone randomly choosing an answer would have a one in four chance of getting it right depending on how many answers there were to choose from.
How multiple choice questions are used in the IELTS exam
On academic IELTS papers, multiple choice questions are used fairly sparingly and often in a more complex way than traditional multi-choice answer questions. Candidates are sometimes given a series of answers in a box, they are then given a number of questions and asked to match the questions with the answers. Another trick is to ask candidates to choose two answers from a list after having chosen just one in a previous multiple choice question.
How to tackle multiple choice questions
Firstly, don’t assume that the answer will be simple, read the question and make sure you understand what the task is. Look for negatives such as ‘which of the following is NOT…’. Attempt to eliminate the answers that are incorrect and by doing this you should be left with the correct one.
Also, try not to spend a long time on just one question. If you really can’t figure out the answer it’s best just to use your judgement, choose one and then move on. You won’t lose any marks on the IELTS reading exam for making an educated guess.