Teach Test Strategies to Multilingual Learners

Since multilingual education and literacy programs receive government funding based on testing results, it is crucial to ensure test results are as accurate as possible. Improved test scores demonstrate the progress of students and ensure  adequate funding of vital programs and their services.

Most of these tests are multiple choice and are scored by a computer.  Multiple choice tests are not common in many countries. Many multilingual students refer to these tests as "American tests". In other countries, tests ask for the correct answer or a written response. Having three or more optional answers seems nonsensical to many multilingual learners. From their perspective, one can simply "guess" the correct answer without knowing the actual answer.

Many multilingual learners have never learned multiple choice test strategies. Emergent students and those with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE) do not know how to take a test. Multilingual learners in 4-12 grades may have never received test strategies instruction. Even highly educated students (Masters and PhD), benefit from learning multiple choice test strategies.

If possible, give a practice multiple choice test at the conclusion of a chapter or unit. Review it together as a class. Explain and demonstrate how to use different strategies. It is important to teach how to eliminate choices and make educated guesses. Explain why an answer is correct. Practice tests help students improve test taking skills and reduce test anxiety.

In conclusion, all multilingual learners benefit from learning basic test taking strategies. They will be more confident and relaxed, avoid common mistakes, answer questions quicker, and score higher on their tests. This demonstrates a more accurate picture of their progress and will help ensure funding.

Strategies for multiple choice tests include:
  1. READ with your EYES, not your mouth. You will read 3 to 4 times faster.
  2. Read the QUESTION FIRST, before the text or diagram.
  3. Look for KEY WORDS in the question.
  4. SCAN the paragraph or diagram for KEY WORDS. If there are no keywords look for SYNONYMS (business = company).
  5. Read the sentence BEFORE, WITH, and AFTER the keyword/s.
  6. Pay attention to QUESTION WORDS. If it asks WHEN? Look for the date, day, or time. If it asks WHO? Look for a person, group, or company. If it asks HOW MUCH? Look for  a number, money or the word 'free.'
  7. If the question asks WHY? Or What is the PURPOSE?, read the first sentence or first paragraph. These usually contain the answer.
  8. Think of the ANSWER in your mind before looking at the multiple choices. This way the choices given on the test won't confuse you.
  9. Read ALL the ANSWERS.
  10. Eliminate the WRONG answers.
  11. You can usually eliminate answers with 'all', 'every', and 'none'.
  12. Pay attention to negative words in the question such as NO, NONE, or NOT. Answer the negative question.
  13. Make an educated GUESS if you are unsure of the correct answer.
  14. DON’T CHANGE your answer, usually your first choice is the right one.


  • Amy Gustafson

    Thank you for this. It’s been bothering me how my newcomer students have performed on multiple choice tests in my class, which is science taught in their native language (Spanish). They may do really well on the problems that they have to work out or long answer, then significantly worse on the “easier” multiple choice. This helps explain. Now what to do….

  • Johanna

    Excelente 🙏

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