Preparing for Single Best Answer MCQs
SQE1 will be a challenging assessment for all candidates, given the quantity of information a candidate must be aware of in two separate sittings. In addition, however, an extra complexity is added by the nature of the assessment itself: multiple-choice questions (MCQs).
The SRA have identified that MCQs are the most appropriate way to test a candidate’s knowledge and understanding of fundamental legal principles. Whilst this may be the case, it is likely that many candidates have little, if any, experience of MCQs as part of their previous study. Even if a candidate does have experience of MCQs, SQE1 will feature a special form of MCQs known as ‘single best answer’ questions.
What are single best answer MCQs and what do they look like?
Single best answer MCQs are a specialised form of question, used extensively in other fields such as in training medical professionals. The idea behind single best answer MCQs is that the multitude of options available to a candidate may each bear merit, sharing commonalities and correct statements of law or principle, but only one option is absolutely correct (in the sense that it is the ‘best’ answer).
In this regard, single best answer MCQs are different from traditional MCQs. A traditional MCQ will feature answers which are implausible in the sense that the distractors are ‘obviously wrong’. Indeed, distractors in a traditional MCQ are often very dissimilar, resulting in a candidate being able to spot answers which are clearly wrong with greater ease.
In a well-constructed single best answer MCQ, on the other hand, each option should look equally attractive given their similarities and subtle differences. The skill of the candidate will be identifying which, out of the options provided, is the single best answer. This requires a much greater level of engagement with the question than a traditional MCQ would require; candidates must take the time to read the questions carefully in the exam.
For SQE1, single best answers will be structured as follows:
How do I tackle single best answer MCQs?
Now that you know what the MCQs will look like on SQE1, let us talk about how you may go about tackling an MCQ.
No exact art exists in terms of answering single best answer MCQs; your success depends on your subject knowledge and understanding of how that subject knowledge can be applied. Despite this, there are tips and tricks which may be helpful for you to consider when confronted with a single best answer MCQ.
- Read the entire question at least twice
This sounds obvious but is so often overlooked. You are advised to read the entire question once, taking in all relevant pieces of information, understanding what the question is asking you and being aware of the options available. Once you have done that, read the entire question again and this time pay careful attention to wording that is used.
- In the factual scenario: Does it use any words that stand out? Do any words used have legal bearing? What are you told, and what are you not told?
- In the stem: What are you being asked? Are there certain words to look out for (e.g. ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘will’, ‘shall’?)
- In the answers: What are the differences between each option? Are they large differences or subtle differences? Do any differences turn on a word, or a phrase?
You should be prepared to give each question at least two viewings to mitigate any misunderstandings or oversights.
- Understand the question being asked
It is important first that you understand what the question is asking of you. The SRA have identified that the FLK assessments may consist of single best answer MCQs which, for example:
- Require the candidate to simply identify a correct legal principle or rule.
- Require the candidate to not only identify the correct legal principle or rule, but also apply that principle or rule to the factual scenario.
- Provide the candidate with the correct legal principle or rule, but require the candidate to identify how it should be properly applied, and/or the outcome of that proper application.
By first identifying what the question is seeking you to do, you can then understand what the creators of that question are seeking to test and how to approach the answers available.
- If you know the answer outright…
You may feel as though a particular answer ‘jumps out’ at you, and that you are certain it is correct. It is very likely that the answer is correct. Whilst you should be confident in your answers, do not allow your confidence (and perhaps over confidence) to rush you into making a decision. Review all of your options one final time before you move on to the next question.
- If you do not know the answer outright, employ a process of elimination
There may be situations in which the answer is not obvious from the outset. This may be due to the close similarities between different answers. Remember, it is the ‘single best answer’ that you are looking for. If you keep this in your mind, it will thereafter be easier to employ a process of elimination. Identify which answer you are sure are not correct (or not the ‘best’) and whittle down your options. Once you have only two options remaining, carefully scrutinise the wording used in both answers and look back to the questions being asked. Identify what you consider to the be the best answer, in light of that question. Review your answer and move on to the next question.
- Take an educated and reasoned guess
There may be circumstances, quite commonly, in which you do not know the answer to the question. In this circumstance, you should try as hard as possible to eliminate any distractors that you are positive are incorrect and then take an educated and reasoned guess based on the options available.
- Skip and come back to it later
If time permits, you may think it appropriate to skip a question that you are unsure of, and return to it before the end of the assessment. If you do so, we would advise:
- That you make a note of what question you have skipped (for ease navigation later on); and
- Ensure you leave sufficient time for you to go back to that question before the end of the assessment.
The same advice is applicable to any question which you have answered, but for which you remain unsure.
We hope that this brief guide will assist you in your preparation towards, and engagement with, single best answer MCQs.