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How to use the process of elimination
  • Calendar Jun 05, 2019
  • User Jared Wells
  • Category In Uncategorized
  • Comments 0 Comments

Process of elimination is for "easy" questions too.

First off, like showing work in general, the POE is not a process for JUST the hard questions. It’s a process that should be used on every multiple choice problem. When students tell me that they don’t need to because the answer is “obvious”, I tell them “Well, then eliminating the wrong ones should be easy, right?” Part of the value of the POE is it helps avoid careless errors caused by rushing and looking past “easy” questions. Sure, you can get “most” of the questions right if you are rushing, and you’ll only make mistakes on a few problems. Is “most” what you are aiming for? The great thing about the POE is that it is a process that will improve your accuracy, so long as you decide to apply it consistently. So use it on the “easy” and the hard questions. If nothing else, it will help you to develop the habit.

What is your evidence/reasoning for the elimination?

Secondly, make sure you have a specific reason to eliminate an answer choice that you can articulate clearly. If you can’t (you just have a “gut feeling” or intuition) do not eliminate the answer choice. If, in the end, you can’t eliminate all but one answer choice, that’s fine. You can always still take your best guess. But don’t prevent yourself from having the opportunity of revisiting a question later because you made an unfounded elimination.

Intuitions are great! If you are a detective investigating a crime, an intuition can tell you who you should investigate first. If there are 100 possible suspect, an intuition about one of them could be a huge timesaver if you investigate and find evidence they committed the crime. But an intuition, alone, would not be a reason to arrest someone. Similarly, an intuition is a GREAT reason to investigate an answer choice...but it is NOT a reason to eliminate an answer

Draw a line through the eliminated answer choices

Thirdly, make sure that you eliminate the answer, physically, by drawing a line or an X through the answer choice. No eliminations “in your head”. The act of physically drawing a line will bring your consciousness and awareness to the elimination more fully, giving you the opportunity to notice whether you do or do not have a clearly articulated reason to eliminate the answer choice. Not writing something down is a great way to not think something through fully. Most of the time a student tells me that they eliminated the answer “in their head”, they can’t clearly articulate the reasons for the eliminations. You also want to write your eliminations down because…

Don't guess yet!

Finally, when you feel that you can’t eliminate any more answer choices to a question, move on past the question WITHOUT answering. Have you ever skipped a problem on a test, only to come back to it and see the obvious answer? That’s because your mind has been working on the problem in the background the whole time. Don’t spend a lot of time getting hung up on a single problem. Move on! You may see other information on the test that gives you a clue about a question you got stuck on. Because you physically eliminated the answers you had clearly articulated reasons for eliminating, you’ll be able to jump right back into the problem. At the very least, you can always make a last second guess at the end of the test if you don’t have time to come back to it. But you want to leave yourself to opportunity to revisit it. When I took multiple choice exams in high school/college, I would often go through a test four or more times, making more eliminations each time I passed through.


The POE is a way for you to add quality to the thinking work that you do on multiple choice problems. It’s a way to make progress on difficult questions, and avoid careless errors on easy ones. But the most important way it adds quality is by forcing you to read every questions carefully. In my experience, not reading each answer choice carefully is the biggest reason student make mistakes on multiple choice problems.

Looking to sharpen your student's test taking skills? Check our our "Study Skills" workshop this summer.


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