First Answer the Best? Not so Fast…

By ETS, Special for  USDR

Although you may have heard that it is best to stick with your first answer on multiple-choice test questions, new, empirical research from the GRE ® Program suggests that students who thoughtfully change their first answer are likely to improve their  scores.

The ability to change an answer in the GRE ® revised General Test appears to be popular among test takers. According to the study, more than 95 percent of GRE test takers changed at least one answer in the Verbal Reasoning or Quantitative Reasoning  measures.

“The GRE revised General Test is the only admissions test that allows business school and graduate school applicants to mark questions within a section and go back to change answers if they had second thoughts,” says David Payne, Educational Testing Service (ETS) Vice President & COO of Global Education. “The test-taker friendly design can help people perform better compared to how they would have done without the opportunity to change answers. Now, we have evidence that this ability to go back to complete or change an answer may help test takers improve their  scores.”

The research also showed  that:

  • Most GRE test takers who changed answers went from wrong to right, and boosted scores
  • All GRE test takers who skipped a question and later completed it saw the same or better scores.
  • More test takers saw score gains on the Quantitative Reasoning measure than on the Verbal Reasoning measure when changing an initial blank.
  • Changing answers helped test takers at all ability levels.

Educational Testing Service GRE Infographic

ETS surveyed nearly 2,000 test takers regarding the perceived benefits or harms of answer changing. When asked whether the original or the switched answer was more likely to be correct, 59 percent of the survey respondents believed that the original answer was more likely to be correct and only 14 percent said the changed  answer.

“The results of this study disprove the fallacy that the first instinct is always correct when answering multiple-choice questions,” saysLydia Liu, Managing Senior Research Scientist at ETS. “It’s important that students, tutors and test prep companies know that the research supports response changing when there is a good reason for doing  so.”

The GRE Program introduced the ability to skip questions and change answers when the GRE revised General Test was launched in 2011. This helpful feature allows individuals to use more of their own personal test-taking strategies to help them feel more confident on test  day.

Payne said, “Only the GRE revised General Test gives test takers the power of confidence by letting them change answers to help them get their best scores, and knowing they can do their best helps them get that much closer to their graduate or business school  goals.”

To learn more about the GRE revised General Test, view a 30-second overview at or to register to take a GRE test visit

About  ETS
At ETS, we advance quality and equity in education for people worldwide by creating assessments based on rigorous research. ETS serves individuals, educational institutions and government agencies by providing customized solutions for teacher certification, English language learning, and elementary, secondary and postsecondary education, and by conducting education research, analysis and policy studies. Founded as a nonprofit in 1947, ETS develops, administers and scores more than 50 million tests annually — including the TOEFL® and TOEIC ® tests, the GRE ® tests and The Praxis Series ® assessments — in more than 180 countries, at over 9,000 locations worldwide.

SOURCE Educational Testing  Service

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