Trusting Your Gut Intro
You've heard the advice that trusting your gut on a multiple choice test is the absolute best way to go. Common knowledge states that if you've put an answer down on your first pass through the exam, by all means, don't change it because your first choice is usually correct. But is this advice always true? Is it the best testing strategy? Perhaps in certain situations, but certainly not always. Let's go through reasons that trusting your gut has come to become a popular testing strategy, and then delve into the reasons to get rid of it if the situation calls for a different approach.
Keeping Your First Answer
We've all taken a multiple choice test where we've been stuck between answer choice A and B, wondering what to do. We select A, and then wonder if we've chosen correctly for the rest of the test. We circle it, vowing to revisit it with a clearer head, and when the end of the test comes – time is ticking down to seconds – we've crossed it off and chosen B. When the test comes back, "Whammo!" We've realized we've made a huge mistake. We should have been trusting our gut because answer choice A was actually right!
There are actually times when trusting your instincts is the appropriate strategy. Here are a couple of those instances:
- You studied: And I don't mean just cramming for the test. You put in the necessary study time, thoughtfully and purposefully learning the material so you know it inside and out.
Why to trust your gut in this instance: Perhaps you're stuck between two choices because of test anxiety or an amazingly worded (or poorly worded) test question. If you studied really well for the test, your unconscious mind may prompt you toward the right answer even though you don't remember learning it.
- You strategized: When you were reading through the test question, you utilized a testing strategy like a process of elimination. You got rid of extreme answer choices, answers that seemed partly correct, and opposites. When you got down to two choices, you decided on the answer because it was the most accurate.
Why to trust your gut in this instance: Since you were so careful with your testing strategy the first time around, it makes sense to keep your first answer especially if you're pressed for time on the second try. You may have forgotten the reasons why you so carefully chose your first answer, and with a change, will negate your multiple-choice strategy.
Changing Your First Answer
According to an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 88, No. 5), the reason we're hesitant to change an answer once we've bubbled in a response is because it feels so much worse to have answered a question correctly the first time and then get it wrong because we changed it. It feels better to us to just get an answer wrong on the first try then switch from the right answer to the wrong answer.
It's kind like when you're stuck in the middle lane in traffic and you switch to the left lane which seems to be moving faster, but as soon as you switch, the lane slows and the middle lane shoots ahead. It's worse to have moved and watch people who were behind you move ahead of you.
There are times, though, that changing your first answer is a very good testing strategy and can earn you valuable points. Here are a couple:
- You discovered new info: As you were taking the test, you ran across a question that related to the one you were stuck on, and it offers different information than the answer you selected.
Why to change your answer in this instance: You change it to get the answer correct! If you happen upon information later on in the test that helps confirm your second choice on an earlier question, by all means, change your first answer.
- You were careless: When you answered questions your first time around, you didn't pay as close enough attention to the answer choices as you should have because you were rushing or distracted. The kid in the back of the room wouldn't stop coughing or you breezed through a section without too much thought.
Why to change your answer in this instance: If you have extra time, going back through the exam and changing answers can earn you points on the exam if you didn't make vigilant decisions throughout. Rushing always causes errors, as does a lack of focus. Correct sloppy mistakes and you'll earn extra points.
- You doubted yourself: As you struggled between two answer choices, you went ahead with answer choice D because it seemed like it was probably what everyone else would choose. It was perfectly obvious. But there was a little voice in the back of your head that told you to choose C.
Why to change your answer in this instance: In this case, you need to trust that voice in your head. Change your answer to C, so you won't kick yourself later for answering it correctly when you knew it was right! There's nothing worse than choosing an incorrect answer for the wrong reasons.
Trusting Your Gut – Good or Bad?
When it comes down to it, it's typically good testing behavior to adhere to the trusting your gut philosophy as long as you've been a great test-taker by preparing yourself well for the exam and employing good testing strategies. If, though, you were careless, happened upon a little nugget of truth later on in the test, or didn't trust yourself the first time around, then give yourself permission to make the change.