When Should You Go with Your Gut? A Multiple Choice Dilemma

Stuck on a question, and wondering whether or not you should go with your gut?

Many, many times I’ve had students fret over changing a multiple choice answer (multiple times). Did they make the right decision? Didn’t they?

These questions haunt you much more when you don’t pass an exam. In this post, I’m going to address the issue of when you should go with your gut instinct on a multiple choice exam.


Go With Your Gut…I Think?

Whether or not to go with your gut is an age old question. And, as you might suspect, there is no shortage of opinions out there on the subject. Sadly however, no definitive answer seems to unequivocally surface without being contradicted by another. Authors from the Harvard Business Review, to various psychology journals have all weighed in. While some say trusting your gut is a myth, others say if it’s backed up with experience and reason, it may be effective.

I’m not going to leave you hanging with a shoulder shrug though. Let me tell you what I see as a tutor.


Gut Instinct

To be successful with “your gut”, usually requires having some base knowledge on the subject. It’s rare that a student of mine answers with gut instinct and gets it correct when they haven’t read the textbook. This instinctual guess often seems more of an educated guess than some form of unexplained psychic ability. That said, one advantage of the multiple choice format of the CFA Exam is that the success rate of guessing is relatively high: 1 in 3. The advantages pretty much end there. Studying for the exam is a lot of work, and the answers are rarely so obvious that you can always eliminate one answer. Answering based on instinct is less often correct when it comes to the CFA practice questions in my experience.

On the other hand, my experience as a SIE Exam tutor has left me more confident that when students “guess” their guesses are rarely blind. Anecdotes are all I have to go on unfortunately (I haven’t done any formal study of my students’ success rate of guessing), but I have consistently seen my students’ instincts perform better than random guessing when they have some familiarity with the exam, and have spent considerable time studying. It often seems like “gut instinct” is in fact a loose memory hanging by a thread – but not a shot in the dark.


So When Should You Change Your Answer?

There are only two instances in which I think you should change your answer.

  1. First, is when you actually know the answer. If you re-read a question and realize that you misinterpreted it the first time, it makes total sense to change your answer.
  2. However, when you have absolutely no idea of the answer there is no reason to fret over changing your answer. If there are four multiple choice possibilities, the probability that you’re correct is 25% (1 in 4) any way you slice it. No matter how many times you change your answer, you won’t come any closer to being confident.

Gut instinct is hardly an easy-to-identify source of answers. The best antidote to uncertainty when it comes to test taking is to study. And, study hard!

At Professional Exam Tutoring, our goal is to get you to a point where you can rely less on your “gut” and more on a solid foundation of knowledge. Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *