Your First Instinct May Not Always Be Correct on Multiple-choice Questions

Your First Instinct May Not Always Be Correct on Multiple-choice Questions

New GRE® Research Shows Most Test Takers Gained Scores when Changing Answers


PRINCETON, N.J., June 10, 2013 /PRNewswire-HISPANIC PR WIRE/ — We have all been told to go with our first instinct when studying for multiple-choice tests, but recent GRE® research shows that on average test takers increased their scores when using the capability to skip or change answers on multiple-choice questions in the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning sections of the GRE® revised General Test.

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“The GRE revised General Test is the only admissions test that allows MBA and graduate school applicants to mark questions within a section and go back to change answers if they had second thoughts,” says David Payne, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Higher Education Division at ETS. “And now we have evidence that this ability to go back to complete or change an answer may help test takers improve their score.”

The study looked at the response change patterns of more than 8,000 test takers from 37 countries as they changed their responses from blank to the final response, wrong to the final response, or right to the final response. The key finding: most test takers gained scores when changing answers on the multiple-choice questions (71.7 percent on the Quantitative Reasoning questions and 77.1 percent on the Verbal Reasoning questions).

“The results of this study disprove the fallacy that the first instinct is always correct when answering multiple-choice questions,” says Lydia Liu, Senior Research Scientist at ETS. “Few people know that for about 80 years, research in this area has indicated the benefit of conscientious answer changing, yet the myth persists. It is important that students know that the research supports response changing when there is a good reason for doing so.”

As part of the study ETS surveyed nearly 2,000 test takers regarding the perceived benefits or harms of answer changing. When asked whether the original or the switched answer was more likely to be correct, 59 percent of the survey respondents believed that the original answer is more likely to be correct and only 14 percent said the changed answer. “Despite test-taker perception, the empirical results suggest that the majority of the respondents had a score gain as a result of answer changing,” adds Liu.

The GRE Program introduced the ability to skip questions and change answers when the GRE revised General Test was launched in 2011. This test-taker friendly design allows individuals to use more of their own personal test-taking strategies to help them feel more confident. In addition, individuals who took the GRE revised General Test and feel they did not do their best can retake the test and then send only the scores they want schools to see. “It’s all part of giving people the power of confidence,” adds Payne.

For more information on the GRE Program and GRE research visit

About ETS

At ETS, we advance quality and equity in education for people worldwide by creating assessments based on rigorous research. ETS serves individuals, educational institutions and government agencies by providing customized solutions for teacher certification, English language learning, and elementary, secondary and post-secondary education, as well as conducting education research, analysis and policy studies. Founded as a nonprofit in 1947, ETS develops, administers and scores more than 50 million tests annually — including the TOEFL® and TOEIC® tests, the GRE® tests and The Praxis Series™ assessments — in more than 180 countries, at over 9,000 locations worldwide.

SOURCE Educational Testing Service

Your First Instinct May Not Always Be Correct on Multiple-choice Questions