Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs)

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On this page :

General introduction
MCQ Myths
Examples of MCQ structure
Overall approach to handling MCQs

(Click on these links to go to the headings on this page - though I would recommend that you scroll down as you read!)

Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) can be constructed in many formats. The format used in this examination is the ‘one-from-five’ or Type A question. Each question has an opening statement or ‘stem’ followed by five alternatives : A, B, C, D and E. The stem sets the theme of the question. You are required to choose the best of the five alternatives.

Remember :
1. It is not the "one correct" alternative, but the best alternative, that you have to choose. It is imperative that you read the question carefully.
2. It is not a matter of 'searching' for the best answer. You have to rule out the other four! This is easy if the "incorrect" answer is obviously wrong or factually incorrect.

As a rule (no exceptions!) there are no language tricks in any of the questions. If at all a question appears tricky it is because the subject content of the question. This discussion is about tackling these questions. More samples for practice and self assessment appear in subsequent pages.


MCQ myths :

1. MCQs test only factual knowledge by recall.

This may be true to some extent. But there are MCQs which need some reasoning and thought. You will find examples of both in the MCQ pages.

2. Answering MCQs is a matter of guesswork.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. In a factual recall question, you either know the answer or you do not. In some cases you may resort to intelligent guesswork, but then this is true of other types of questions too.

My philosophy in teaching is "build the picture from few simple facts". You will find that a large number of MCQs can be answered correctly if you know a few basic facts and reason out the answer. Some students may have the ability to remember large masses of facts and therefore answer without reasoning. Hopefully you have done the reasoning process subconsciously when you learnt those areas!

3. One can answer MCQs randomly and still get a passable number of correct answers.

A cursory look at the question type will tell you that statistically you cannot get more than 20% correct answers by this method. Moreover, remember that statistics can be the worst kind of lie when applied to individual cases.

4. "I can remember the answers to 200 MCQs and pass the test".

If you can remember 200 answers, you are looking at 1000 statements being true or false. You probably need to remember less than that to understand the core concepts of this unit. And these are covered, with explanations, during the course of this unit. Ergo, why not understand and know the subject?

Moreover, in MCQs a single word can make a difference between the correct and the incorrect. Two questions may appear similar or identical, but...

On the other hand, if you do practice a number of MCQs, you will understand their structure and know how to handle them.


Let us take a look at the pattern of MCQs :

A question may be a straightforward one where the five alternatives are grammatically continuous completions of the stem :

The latissimus dorsi muscle

    A. is a part of epaxial musculature..

    B. is a developmentally ventral muscle in the upper limb.

    C. adducts the arm at the glenohumeral joint.

    D. is a lateral rotator of the humerus.

    E. rotates the scapula upwards during abduction of the arm.

This question tests factual knowledge concerning the muscle. The correct answer is ‘C’. Regarding the other alternatives in this question : all limb muscles are hypaxial muscles, latissimus dorsi belongs to the dorsal group of muscles in the limb, it is a medial rotator of the humerus and it pulls the glenoid downwards though it acts through the humerus.

Do not be in a hurry to write what you think is the correct answer until you have finished reading the entire question. There may be more than one correct answer, with an appropriate statement to that effect towards the end of the question. For example (the same question with some changes!) :

Regarding the latissimus dorsi muscle

    A. It is a part of hypaxial musculature..

    B. It is a developmentally dorsal muscle in the upper limb.

    C. It adducts the arm at the glenohumeral joint.

    D. B and C are correct.

    E. A, B and C are correct.

You may be tempted to mark A, B or C as your answer. All are correct. But remember that you have to write the “best” answer. The best answer here is ‘E’. If you mark ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ or 'D' you are partially correct, but in questions of this type there is no credit for a partially correct answer.

Negative words or those that indicate exception are in upper case (capital letters), so that they are not overlooked. Questions with such words are few. When you do come across them, read them carefully.

With reference to the median nerve, all of the following are true EXCEPT :

    A. It has fibres of both medial and lateral cords of the brachial plexus.

    B. It supplies the brachialis muscle.

    C. It gives branches to the majority of anterior compartment muscles in the forearm.

    D. It passes through the carpal tunnel.

    E. It supplies the thenar muscles in the hand.

Since the stem says “All …… are true EXCEPT”, the false statement is the correct answer, which in this case is ‘B’.

The stem of this question may also be written as :

With reference to median nerve, which of the following statements is INCORRRECT?

    A. It has... ...

    B. … …


The overall approach.

Students have different approaches in handling MCQs. Some students proceed serially through all the questions, some may feel confident about some questions and answer them first, returning to the remaining questions later. In any case it is important not to mix up answers and to keep track of time. In my opinion the first approach is better unless a particular question really stumps you.

Once you have answered a question it is better not to keep returning to it to check your answer. When you finish answering all questions, if time permits, you can go through all of them once. If on a second reading you feel like changing too many answers, relax for a few moments and attack again. It is my observation (not documented or statistically proven, but stemming from experience of over twenty years with MCQs) that when a student changes an answer, more often than not the second answer is wrong!

You can try some of the practice questions!