The Answer is C

by Will on September 24, 2010

I took two multiple-choice tests yesterday. One was an insultingly easy one, for a potential employer. The other one was a maddeningly difficult one — focusing on obscurities and minutia, and replete with trick questions — for my Physiology class.

Assuming that the majority of the answers I gave were correct, which I’m fairly confident of, both these tests took part in a trend I’ve noticed before: the makers of such exams seem to dislike placing the correct answer in A or D, and the majority of correct answers usually fall in B and C. But especially C. If you just have no idea what the answer is, guessing C is generally a good strategy.

I’m sure that there is either an economist or a psychologist out there who has noticed this trend and tried to explain it. It reminds me of Benford’s law, which surprisingly teaches that random distributions of numbers will not appear random, but will feature more of the low numbers. But I suspect what’s at play here is a cognitive bias: somehow C seems the choice that is the “least obvious,” and thus it becomes the most obvious.

If anybody can direct me to research on this subject, please let me know. I’m curious. Ditto if there’s research proving my unscientific observation wrong.

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