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Exam question skills – multiple choice papers


Tips for success in exam question skills.

Exam question skills are essential for making the most of your opportunity on the big day. When you’ve worked so hard on your revision it would be such a shame to miss out on easy marks. Become familiar with how multiple choice exams work. Utilising a few key exam question skills will help you make the most of your knowledge.

Getting started…

Start by reading the end of the question first, this is often where the real question is. Once you know what you are looking for, read the question from the top. Look for the details you need and ignoring any red herrings or superfluous information.

Try this question:

You can see how the actual question is at the end of the text. Reading this first and then going back to the beginning is an efficient way of looking at the question. You are reading it already knowing exactly what you are looking for. If you read the question in order,  you would need to read it a second time. This method will save you time overall and is probably one of the most important exam question skills.

But do make sure you always read the entire question. The answer may seem to be in the first few lines, but if you read on you may discover more. Perhaps the offence is incomplete, or the offender has a defence for his actions.

What next?

  • Answer the question in your mind before looking at the answer choices.
  • Then, having decided on your answer, read every answer choice, eliminating any you know to be definitely wrong. Even if you see what you think is the right answer straight away,
  • You have already answered the question in your mind, and eliminated wrong answers, so choose the best answer from those that remain.

If you knew the answer straight away, that’s great. If not, you may have been able to rule some of the answers out before making an educated guess.  To be left with what is correct, sometimes you just need to know what answers are wrong.

So while we are here, let’s talk about the right and wrong answers to this question.

The offence can’t be “Making a threat to kill” as this does not apply to an unborn child. Had Mr Rogers threatened to kill the child upon its birth this would have been a different matter.

We can rule out “Possession with intent to endanger life” because Mr Rogers has an imitation. Even if you are not sure of the legislation, common sense tells us that you cannot intend to endanger life with an item that does not endanger life!

And finally, we can ignore “Having an imitation firearm in a Public place”, because My Rogers has a lawful excuse.

With those answers aside, it leaves us with the correct answer of “False imprisonment” – unlawful restraint of a persons freedom of movement.

What about the more complex questions?

This is where writing on the exam paper can be a life saver. If you are allowed to write on the paper, you can cross out any information that is wrong, leaving you with a much simpler question. Take this question for instance:

I hope you started by reading the last part of the question first!!

If you’re not super confident on relevant time then a question like this can be really daunting. But we can instantly simplify it.

The relevant time is the time of arrival at the first station where he is wanted or, if arrested outside of England/Wales, 24 hours after entry into England/Wales (or sooner if they arrive at the station before the 24 hours is up). So the information we are looking for is when they entered England. The question clearly states that they entered England at 1pm on Tuesday.  The relevant time is 24 hours after entering England/Wales (or sooner if they arrive at the station where he is wanted before the 24 hours is up).

So to save getting confused, let’s write on the question, get rid of everything we don’t need and highlight what we do.

Now the question seems much simpler. Check your understanding by answering it here:

What if I get stuck?

Move on and return to the question later.  There are likely to be several questions you are unsure of and it would be a huge shame to waste time trying to work them out and not finish the exam, especially as there could be a dozen unfinished questions at the end of the exam that would have been easy for you if you had just got to them. 

Leave questions you are unsure of and come back to them at the end. If you still have time left, you can now share this between the remaining questions, starting with the ones you think are easier. But never leave any blank, if there is little time at the end then simply guess.  If there is no negative marking (marks taken away for wrong answers), you shouldn’t be handling in an unfinished paper.

But make sure you read the tricky question before leaving it to come back to later. There are two good reasons for this. 

  1. Your subconscious mind will be working away on it, so you may find the answer comes to mind more easily when you return to the question.
  2. You may get a clue to an earlier question you were stuck on from a question later on in the exam. 

Should I change my answers?

Research supports changing answers if you think your original one was wrong. This is particularly effective when you return to questions at the end of the exam. Your subconscious mind has been working on them and when you return to questions you weren’t sure about, that extra time your brain has spent processing it often leads to a better answer.

So if you think your original answer was wrong, it could be prudent to change it.

What if I don’t have a clue?

If you are guessing with absolutely no idea what to choose, there is an exam question skills strategy you can use. It may squeeze and extra mark or two out of the exam for you! One piece of work that examined 100 tests (2,456 questions in total), from varied American sources, found some useful statistical patterns.

  • The answers “none of the above” or “all of the above” were correct 52% of the time. 
  • The longest answer on multiple-choice tests was usually correct. 
  • Correct answer choices hardly repeated consecutively. (E.g., If your last correct answer was [A], the next one is less likely to also be [A]).
  • There is a slightly higher chance that answer choice [B] is correct when the question has 4 answer choices.

These don’t provide guarantees, but it may be better than a completely random guess if you have no clue at all!


Make sure you use all these exam question skills as you work through your paper. Take your time and read the questions carefully. This is where all your hard work pays off. And make sure you are completely familiar with the NPPF exam rules. You’ll find everything you need to know at the College of Policing here.

Good luck!! 🍀