Reading Comprehension and Multiple Choice Strategies

by Soheila Battaglia

Whether taking a standardized exam or responding to an in-class reading, one of the ways to convey your comprehension of a text is by answering multiple choice questions. Reading carefully and taking notes increase your chances of correctly responding to any type of comprehension question, ranging from multiple choice to essay format. Identifying the best answer and eliminating incorrect answers is the most effective method for approaching the multiple-choice format.

Take Notes

The first step to successful reading comprehension is to carefully read all parts of the material. Begin by reading the title and any background information to enrich your understanding of the text. As you read, take careful notes, underlining repeated words and phrases, jotting down questions in the margins, and marking main points and subpoints. If you are taking a reading comprehension exam, writing on the text while you read can help keep you more alert and engaged with the material. Taking notes increases your comprehension and critical thinking, while also preparing you for an exam or essay about the reading.


Some material -- such as vocabulary, dates, facts -- is stated directly in a text. Other concepts, however -- such as theme, tone, relationships between ideas and symbolism -- must be inferred from implied elements in the text. Cuesta College notes that "writers often tell you more than they say directly." This means that a text provides readers with clues from which they must draw conclusions and interpret meaning that is not explicitly stated. For example, to identify the theme of the story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, readers must evaluate the symbols and characters, and draw conclusions from the details to pose possible literary themes.

Process of Elimination

An important multiple choice strategy is to eliminate the incorrect answers before making a selection. This strategy is particularly useful when you are not certain of the right answer and must guess. Process of elimination increases your chances of selecting the right answer. Sometimes multiple choice questions don't provide the right answer; this means that it is your responsibility to search for the best answer among the choices provided. After eliminating some choices, you should look at all the remaining possible answers to determine which is the most correct or nearest to the answer in your mind.


In the case of timed tests, such as the SAT or a placement exam, you should practice reading in a limited time frame before the day of the test. Setting a timer while you read increases your comfort with working in a time constraint and can reduce potential stress on test day. Practicing reading also reveals weaknesses that you can improve ahead of time, such as pace of reading, inference of implied meaning and vocabulary skills.

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