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The Truth Behind Changing Answer Choices on Tests
The Truth Behind Changing Answer Choices on Tests
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Western Carolina University
The Truth Behind Changing Answer Choices on Tests
The Truth Behind Changing Answer Choices on Tests
Multiple-choice tests are many teachers’ favorite type of examination. However, these
examinations are many students worst nightmare when it comes to testing. Many professors
prefer multiple-choice tests because they are an objective way to test the comprehension and
knowledge of students. However, they pose many problems for students, especially when it
comes to answer changing. Multiple-choice tests offer a multitude of answer choices, leaving
students plenty of opportunities to change and second-guess their answer choices. A common
myth among students of all ages involves the belief that they should go with their first instinctual
answer. The fear of changing answers from right to wrong, and the widespread misconception
promoted by many test taking strategists have caused this myth to prevail. Scientific research
has shown that choosing an answer based on a hunch is not necessarily effective on tests.
Deciding to go with your first hunch on a test instead of changing your answer is a common
speculation that is in fact a myth.
Myth #16 in 50 Greatest Myths of Popular Psychology states, “If You’re Unsure of Your
Answer When Taking a Test, It’s Best to Stick with Your Initial Hunch.” This is one of the most
common myths among students. There are various test-taking pointers circulating the academic
society, some that are true and others that are misleading. For example, many tips suggest that
students should choose the longer and more precise answers when in doubt. This tip has proven
to be accurate. Another common tip suggests that students should go with their instinct on tests
and refrain from changing their answers. But, many scientific studies have declared that students
that are unsure of the answer to a question are better off changing their answer instead of going
with their first hunch when logic is involved. When combining the results of various studies,
between 68% and 100% of college students believe that changing their answers on a test will not
The Truth Behind Changing Answer Choices on Tests
improve their score, and three-fourths of these students think that it will negatively impact their
grade. It is not just students that promote this myth. In a study involving professors who
admitted to giving their students test taking advice, 63% of them told their students that changing
their answers would lower their test scores. This myth is also known as the “first instinct
fallacy,” and it is common among even the most experienced of scholars (Lilienfeld, Lynn,
Ruscio, & Beyerstein, 2010).
Over the course of 70 years, scientists have been studying the first instinct fallacy, and 33
studies have concluded that choosing a final answer on a test based on your first instinct is not
the best tactic (Kersting, 2005). One of these studies involved students from a University of
Illinois introductory psychology course. Justin Kruger, a psychologist at the university and the
co-author of this study, analyzed midterm exams from 1,561 general psychology students,
looking for eraser marks, which signified an answer change. After counting the amount of times
a student changed their answers, they discovered that 51% of the changes made by the students
were from wrong answers to correct answers. In addition, 25% were changed from right to
wrong and 23% were changed from one wrong answer to another. Kruger discovered that
answer changes from wrong to right were greater than those changes made from right to wrong
according to a 2:1 ratio. In order to get feedback about the students’ expectations of how the
answer changes affected the exam, Kruger questioned 51 of the students in the study. Out of this
sample, 75 percent expected there to be more changes from right to wrong than from wrong to
right. According to the eraser marks on the tests, collectively, the students changed more wrong
answers to right answers (Kersting, 2005).
A different study was conducted in order to determine whether students who were
informed about the first instinct fallacy would take it into consideration and change more
The Truth Behind Changing Answer Choices on Tests
answers. At the University of Munich, answer sheets from 79 third year medical school students
were analyzed. The students were randomly separated into two groups. Before taking the test 41
of the students were briefed about the benefits of changing answers after proper deliberation, and
38 students were not informed about the benefits. Both groups were advised to take a test and
show all answer changes. After the tests were scoured for answer changes and eraser marks, the
results concluded that most of the answers throughout the entire group were changed from wrong
to right. The students that had been instructed to change their answers when reasonable doubt
prevailed, did indeed change their answers notably more than the students who were not
informed. In addition, the students that had been informed about the first instinct fallacy scored
slightly higher than those who did not receive that information. This study provides evidence
that when there is reasonable doubt about an answer choice, it is more beneficial to change the
initial answer instead of going with a hunch. Also, this study reveals that students who are
informed about the benefits of answer changing will be more likely to change answers when
caught in a mental tug of war between logic and first instinct (Bauer, Kopp, & Fischer, 2007).
Despite the abundance of evidence that proves that choosing your first instinct on a
multiple choice test is a myth, many students still believe it to be true. One reason that this myth
has prevailed is because students are more likely to remember instances in which they changed
an answer from right to wrong than from wrong to right. This is due to the frustration students
feel when they change a right answer to a wrong answer and lose points. When students change
an answer that was originally correct to an incorrect answer, they are left with a bitter feeling
since they recognize that they could have avoided losing points if they did not second guess their
first instincts. (Lilienfeld et al., 2010). The frustration that results can cause memory bias, in
which the students tend to remember the occasions in which they changed a right answer to a
The Truth Behind Changing Answer Choices on Tests
wrong answer better than when they got an answer correct after changing their initial response
(Hewstone, Fincham, & Foster). Secondly, the first instinct fallacy is a common myth that is
promoted by teachers, students, and test preparation websites. For many years, students have
been taught to go with their first intuition on a test and avoid second guessing themselves. A
study was conducted among a group of professors who admitted to giving their students advice
about changing answers on a test. A total of 63 percent of the professors stated that they warned
their students against changing answers on a test because they believed it would lower their
scores (Lilienfeld et al., 2010). Among the academic community, the first instinct fallacy is still
supported, causing the myth to gain momentum despite the myriad of evidence that debunks this
When should you change your answer? Research has shown that changing your answers
on multiple-choice tests when reasonable doubt exists can have benefits. But, not all answers
should be changed all of the time. In fact, instincts are not always unreliable. A study was done
at Albright College in which a group of students taking a multiple choice psychology test were
asked to rate how confident they were in their answer for each question. The students were also
told to mark any answer changes made on the test and rate each question as high or low
confidence. The results of the study determined that asking students to think about their level of
confidence for each answer helped them select which answers to change (“Trusting Your First
instinct,” 2015). The technique used in this study is known as metacognition. According to the
Merriam Webster dictionary, metacognition is “awareness of analysis of one’s own learning or
thinking processes” (The Merriam-Webster dictionary, 2004). Metacognitive analysis allows
students to determine areas of uncertainty and decide which questions they should change
(Couchman, Miller, Zmuda, Feather, & Schwartzmeyer, 2015).
The Truth Behind Changing Answer Choices on Tests
Test takers should also remember to think critically when they decide whether to change
their answers on tests or go with their first hunch. Like every other scientifically proven theory,
the first instinct fallacy must be substantiated with psychological research from multiple sources.
Thus, each individual must analyze each of their tests and determine how the questions they
changed or did not changed impacted their overall scores (Hewstone et al.)
Many students think that sticking with their first hunch on a test is better than changing
their answers. However, the evidence behind this argument is in fact just a hunch. Scientific
research has been conducted that proves this principle is a myth that is unsubstantiated by real
evidence. Psychologists agree that changing answers on multiple choice tests when there is
justifiable doubt causes more answers to be changed from wrong to right than vice versa. But, in
modern times the first instinct fallacy is still prevalent. Teachers, websites, and other students
promote this myth, causing students to continue to choose their initial instincts on multiplechoice tests. The frustration that results from changing right answers to wrong answers causes
students to hold onto the negative effects of changing answers. Despite the misconception, on
average, more answers are changed from wrong to right than from right to wrong. This fallacy
has been established from many psychological studies, but individuals must think critically and
discover the inaccuracy behind the myth for themselves.
The Truth Behind Changing Answer Choices on Tests
Bauer, D., Kopp, V., & Fischer, M. R. (2007, August 24). Answer changing in multiple choice
assessment change that answer when in doubt – and spread the word! Retrieved October
19, 2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2020461/
Couchman, J. J., Miller, N. E., Zmuda, S. J., Feather, K., & Schwartzmeyer, T. (2015, May 07).
The instinct fallacy: The metacognition of answering and revising during college exams.
Retrieved October 20, 2016, from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11409-0159140-8
Hewstone, M., Fincham, F. D., & Foster, J. (n.d.). Psychology. Blackwell Publishing.
Kersting, K. (2005, April). ‘Trust your first Instincts’: Fallacious folklore. Retrieved October 18,
2016, from http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr05/instincts.aspx
Lilienfeld, S. O., Lynn, S. J., Ruscio, J., & Beyerstein, B. L. (2010). 50 Great Myths of Popular
Psychology. Wiley-Blackwell.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary. (2004). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.
Trusting Your First Instinct on Exams Won’t Necessarily Lead to Better Scores. (2015, June 4).
Retrieved October 17, 2016, from 3.
Research Paper Assignment
Dr. Wilson
PSY 150
You will complete 1 research paper assignment in this course. The first draft, due March
4th, is worth 100 points, I will make suggestions and return the paper to you for editing
and submission of your final draft, due April 22nd, which will also be worth 100 points.
The topic of your paper is your choice! Choose something that is interesting to you,
though be sure to keep it rooted in Psychology. Come up with a research question, no
need to develop it into a theory or hypothesis. For this paper, I just want you all to get
some practice doing some research into the literature. Get onto the Library website and
search for five peer reviewed, scholarly references that address your research question
and write a literature review, focused on your research question, that discusses the
references you found.
To be accepted the papers must be in APA format, no need for title page or abstract. It
must be typed, double-spaced in Times-New Roman 12 pt. To be accepted the paper
must appropriately cite five references and list the papers in a references list. All papers
must be submitted in Canvas. Further, citations and references must be in APA format.
Here is a great formatting guide for APA:
General Format // Purdue Writing Lab
Each paper, the draft and the final, will be scored between 0-100 points. The two paper
scores will be used in calculating your final paper grade (200 points). Points, up to the
maximum value for the paper, will be awarded for the content of the paper and then
points will be subtracted, up to a total of 100, for errors in format or grammar.
The papers may be submitted as a draft for review and comment. After the paper has
been reviewed you may rewrite the paper and submit it for a grade. You must include
the draft with the final paper, failure to resubmit the draft will result in a loss of 5 points
on the final paper.
Levels of Achievement
Does not adequately convey topic.
Does not describe subtopics to be
reviewed. Lacks adequate thesis
50 %
Conveys topic, but not key
question(s). Describes subtopics
to be reviewed. General theses
50 %
Most material clearly related to
Focus & Little evidence material is logically
subtopic, main topic. Material
Sequencing organized into topic or related to
may not be organized within
topic. Many transitions are unclear
subtopics. Attempts to provide
and/or nonexistent.
variety of transitions
50 %
Sources generally acceptable but
Support Few sources supporting thesis.
Sources insignificant or
not peer- reviewed research
(evidence) based.
75 %
100 %
Conveys topic and key
Strong introduction of topic’s key
question(s). Clearly delineates
question(s), terms. Clearly delineates
subtopics to be reviewed. General subtopics to be reviewed. Specific
thesis statement.
thesis statement.
75 %
100 %
All material clearly related to
All material clearly related to subtopic,
subtopic, main topic and logically main topic. Strong organization and
organized within subtopics. Clear, integration of material within
varied transitions linking
subtopics. Strong transitions linking
subtopics, and main topic.
subtopics, and main topic.
75 %
100 %
Sources well selected to support
Strong peer reviewed research based
thesis with some research in
support for thesis.
support of thesis.
100 %
59 %
75 %
Strong review of key conclusions.
Does not summarize evidence with Review of key conclusions. Some Strong review of key conclusions.
Strong integration with thesis
respect to thesis statement. Does not integration with thesis statement. Strong integration with thesis
statement. Insightful discussion of
discuss the impact of researched
Discusses impact of researched statement. Discusses impact of
impact of the researched material on
material on topic.
material on topic.
researched material on topic.
50 %
75 %
Grammer &
100 %
Grammatical errors or spelling&
Very few grammatical, spelling Grammatical errors or spelling &
The paper is free of grammatical errors
punctuation substantially detract
or punctuation errors interfere
punctuation are rare and do not
and spelling & punctuation.
from the paper.
with reading the paper.
detract from the paper.
50 %
75 %
Errors in APA style are
Rare errors in APA style that do
Errors in APA style detract
100 %
noticeable. Word choice
not detract from the paper.
substantially from the paper. Word
No errors in APA style. Scholarly
occasionally informal in tone.
Scholarly style. Writing has
APA Style &
choice is informal in tone. Writing
style. Writing is flowing and easy to
Writing has a few awkward or
minimal awkward of unclear
is choppy, with many awkward or
follow. All references and citations are
unclear passages. Two references passages. One reference or
unclear passages. Reference and
correctly written and present. Contains
or citations missing or incorrectly citations missing or incorrectly
citation errors detract significantly
required 2 or more sources.
written. Less than required
written. Missing one or more
from paper.

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