Passing a multiple choice exam like the MBLEx depends on two things: preparation and a test-taking strategy. Nothing can replace solid preparation for an exam. But having a solid test-taking strategy for the MBLEx can help you do better on the massage licensing exam in 2021.
The strategies and tips in this article are specifically for multiple choice exams. These hacks are not meant to be a substitute for thorough test prep that includes reviewing your notes from massage school, and taking plenty of MBLEx practice tests.
However, knowing a few tricks to help you make an educated guess on hard questions on the massage exam is much better than making a wild, shot-in-the-dark guess.
There is no penalty for guessing on the MBLEx. In fact, you must answer each question before you may proceed to the next test item.
This post is to give new massage therapists some strategies and tips to pass the MBLEx. Current massage students can also use these strategies to help pass multiple choice tests in school.
How multiple choice tests are written
Understanding the basics of how multiple choice tests are created can help you perform better on the massage exam.
Questions on a multiple choice exam are often called items. This is because the item may not actually be a question. It may be an incomplete statement instead.
All items on multiple choice tests are made of three components:
The stem may be presented as a question or an incomplete statement.
The answer, or key, is just as the name implies. It is the answer choice that that correctly answers the question or best completes the statement.
Distractors are those answer choices that are wrong for a specific reason. The distractors may still sound kind of right, or be right some of the time. And there may be times when a distractor is a factually correct statement, but it doesn’t answer the question that was asked.
Multiple choice strategies to help you pass the MBLEx
Here are 8 strategies can help you score higher on tests in massage school and perform better on the MBLEx exam:
1. Read each question carefully
Misreading or misinterpreting a question is where most people go wrong, myself included.
When reading a test question for the first time, read slowly and carefully, all the way to the end. It is easy to skip over a key word when you’re reading too quickly or just skimming the question. It’s also a bad idea to read the first half of the question and assume you know what the question is going to ask.
After reading the question, ask yourself, “What is this question really asking?” You can try rephrasing the question in your own words if that helps.
Re-reading a question a good idea because you may have misread it the first time. This is an important strategy that you should always use, even on the short and easy questions.
Be sure to read ALL of the answer choices as well. Once you select an answer that you think is correct, go back and re-read the question with the answer you selected to see if it still makes sense.
If it still seems correct, then mark your answer and move on. Don’t linger and start second guessing yourself. This will only erode your confidence and waste time.
2. Take the MBLEx questions at face value
The FSMTB states that there are no questions on the MBLEx that are intended to trick you. So there are no intentionally deceptive questions.
A question may seem tricky if you aren’t familiar with the topic. It may also seem to be a trick question when you are reading too much into the question and making assumptions.
If an answer choice is only correct in a rare scenario, then it is probably not the right answer. Try looking at the question and answer choices on a more superficial level, and take them at face value.
Remember that the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam was written specifically for new massage therapists. The questions are only considering what an entry-level therapist needs to know.
3. Come up with the answer on your own
This is a tried and true method of answering multiple choice question. Before looking at any of the possible answer options that are given, try to think of the correct answer in your head. You can cover up their answer choices using the paper that they give you at the Pearson Vue testing center.
It sometimes helps to try predicting the correct answer before you let all the wrong answer choices distract and confuse you (they’re called distractors for a reason).
If you then see the answer you predicted among the answer options, you can be fairly confident that it is the correct answer.
4. Answer the way a competent therapist would
Licensing exams like the MBLEx are not interested in what you personally would do in a certain situation. The correct answer is not based on your personal preferences about a question topic. So approach each multiple choice question with the mindset “How would a competent and professional massage therapist typically answer this question?”
For example, say you happen to personally not like draping because it gets in the way, or whatever. And say you live in a state where draping is not required, and you don’t plan on using draping in your practice. If the question asks about the use of appropriate draping, the correct answer will be the one that says “appropriate draping should always be used…”. This is the standard of massage therapy in the US. (I know this is a bad example you get the point).
5. Budget your time
As with any timed exam, be sure to budget your time during the exam. Pace yourself but don’t rush. For the MBLEx you will have 2 hours to answer 100 questions. That means you can average a little over 1 minute per question.
6. Watch out for negatives and absolutes
The FSMTB provides some information about what to expect on the MBLEx in their Study Guide. One of the things that they say is that they rarely use negatives like “not” or “except” in the question stem, because this can make the question unnecessarily confusing.
However it is possible that you will see a multiple choice question on the MBLEx, in massage school or elsewhere that is phrased in the negative. When you do encounter a question that includes a negative term like not, never or except, try approaching the answer from the positive perspective first (without the negative term). It is especially important to re-read these test items after you have selected you answer to make sure it still makes sense.
Also watch out for words like can, may, often, seldom, rarely, etc. These words will change the meaning of a question.
Be alert for questions or answer options that include an absolute term such as: always, never, none, all or must. For this answer to be correct, it can have no exceptions.
7. Pay attention to terminology
It can be easy to overlook a prefix or suffix. But these can dramatically change the test question. For example, misreading “Ab-” for “Ad-”, or “hypo-” for “hyper-” can make you select the wrong answer.
This is an easy problem to fix. Just be sure to read each question and answer option carefully.
8. Don’t look for patterns
There may be a tendency to have more “B” or “C” answers on tests where the answer choices are organized by humans. But the MBLEx exam uses a computer to randomize the multiple choice answers. So guessing an answer based on its position will not work.
What if more than one answer seems correct?
There are a couple strategies you can use on the MBLEx when two or more answers seem correct, and there is no “all of the above” or “A&B” option.
Let’s say you’ve narrowed it down to two possible answers. The next step is to go back and re-read the question and plug in each of your answer choices. One of them may stand out as the best answer.
Remember that you need to pick the best or most appropriate answer.
If more than one answer option still appears to be correct, then closely examine both possible answers. Compare each answer to see what makes them different.
Does each option answer the question all of the time? Or only under certain conditions? If an answer option is only partly true, then it is probably not the right answer.
The right answer won’t require you to make any major assumptions in order for it to be true.
Here’s a mental trick you can try. Imagine that there are ten massage therapy instructors sitting beside you. Ask yourself which answer they would choose.
If you still don’t know, go with your gut. Sometimes an answer may feel right even though we can’t quite remember why.
How to spot wrong answer choices on multiple choice exams
Sometimes it is easier to spot an obviously wrong answer option than it is to spot the right answer. So finding one or two options to eliminate will help your odds of guessing the right answer.
Even if you end up having to guess on a question, eliminating just one answer increases your probability of guessing correctly from 25% to 33%.
Remember that wrong answers on multiple choice exams are also called distractors. And as the name implies, they are there to distract you. The FSMTB states that the distractors on the MBLEx are “incorrect but plausible”.
There are a few things to look out for that can indicate an answer choice may be a distractor.
The answer option should fit grammatically with the stem. A grammatical clue could be a singular/plural, a/an, noun/verb, or other grammar issue. For example, if the test item is an incomplete sentence that ends with the word “an ______”, then the correct answer should begin with a vowel.
Totally unfamiliar terms
If you did a good job at preparing for the MBLEx, and an answer choice is totally unfamiliar to you, then it is more than likely a distractor.
If there are two answer choices that are basically the same, and there is no option to select both of them, like “all of the above” or “A&B”, then neither of them can be correct.
When you know the topic well, but can’t quite remember the answer
If you’re having trouble remembering the answer to a particular question on the massage exam, and you know that you know the answer, but just can’t remember it. Try imaging that you are in the same location where you initially learned or studied that information.
So visualize yourself back in your seat in your anatomy classroom, or back at your desk at home. Wherever you were when you were studying that topic. This can put you back in the same frame of mind and help you recall that information.
There’s a term for this called context-dependent memory. Actually being in the same physical location with the same surroundings is best. But just visualizing being in the same location can work pretty well too.
Another way to utilize this technique is to study for the MBLEx in an environment that is similar to the testing environment at the Pearson Vue testing centers.
There is another strategy you can try when you know a topic well but just can’t pull the answer out of your brain. That strategy is to try to remember similar information. This works because similar memories on a specific topic are linked together in your brain.
For example, if you can’t remember the name of the cartilaginous structure that supports the shoulder joint, just start thinking about everything that you doknow about the structures at that area: the humerus, scapula, acromion, ball-and-socket joint, the term “glenohumeral joint”, the glenoid fossa…..oh yeah, the glenoid labrum. Bingo! It’s like creating a trail of similar information that will hopefully lead to where you filed the answer in your brain.
Test strategies for questions that you have no idea about
On the MBLEx, you must select an answer before you can move on to the next question. So if you run into a few where you have no idea about which answer choice is correct, you must at least guess.
Fortunately, there are a few strategies that you can use on multiple choice tests like the MBLEx, even when you have no idea what the answer is. Hopefully you won’t run into this situation very often. But at least these strategies will let you make an educated guess rather than a wild guess.
Narrow down your options
If you have no idea about which answer is correct for a particular question, try to at least eliminate a couple possibilities, then make a guess from what’s left. This process of elimination can increase your odds of guessing correctly.
Guess the safest answer
A Hail Mary approach that may increase your odds of guessing correctly on the massage exam is to remember the primary mission of a professional licensing exam. The main objective is to protect the public by making sure that a practitioner doesn’t do something that harms the public.
In other words, choose the answer that is the safest or most conservative. You can apply this technique on questions where client safety is the issue.
On the MBLEx, you may see these questions in any content area. Especially in the Ethics, Professional Practice Guidelines, Client Assessment, and Pathology sections. You can also ask yourself, “How would I answer this question if there was a client on the table in front of me?”
Stay in the middle
This MBLEx strategy applies to questions that asks for a number, such as number of nerve roots in the thoracic spine. If you have no idea and must guess, then toss out the highest and lowest possible choices (outliers) and take a guess from the two that are left.
This strategy won’t always work, but it should put the odds of guessing correctly a little in your favor.
Look for opposites
If two answer choices are opposite, then there is a good chance that one of them is correct.
Select the longest answer
Another last resort strategy for the MBLEx is to just select the longest and most detailed answer choice. Only use this strategy if you have no idea which answer is correct!
If there is one answer option that is significantly more detailed than the others, there is a slightly greater chance that this is the correct answer.
There are two main reasons for this.
First, correct answers often require more qualifiers which will add to the length of the answer. *Test writers want the correct answer to be unequivocally and undeniably correct, with no ambiguity. The correct answer won’t necessarily be obvious. But when a test is audited by a committee, there needs to be no doubt as to which answer is correct.
The second reason why the longest answer option may be correct is that the extra detail wouldn’t be required or added if it were only a distractor. Adding more detail to a distractor could be considered an attempt to trick the test taker. And the FSMBT stated that the questions are not meant to trick you.
Something else to consider
If you’re just starting the MBLEx exam, be careful not to waste time on any questions that you really don’t know. Doing so can cause increased anxiety and self-doubt.
Your goal during the MBLEx examination should be to maintain a positive attitude and stay relaxed.
Just accept ahead of time that there will probably be a couple of questions that you have no idea about. If you are in the last 20-30 questions and still have a lot of time left, then it’s ok to spend a little more time pondering each question.
In conclusion, there is no substitute for solid preparation for the massage exam. But learning and practicing these strategies for taking multiple choice tests should help you on test day. For one thing, knowing these strategies can give you more confidence and help to relieve any test anxiety.
Knowing and applying these tips when taking the MBLEx should also help you get a few additional questions right. This could even make the difference between passing and failing if you are on the border.