Tension is rising in the Harford household as exams approach and we try to persuade Miss Harford Sr to relax, and Miss Harford Jr to be slightly less relaxed. I’m sure many readers have vivid memories of the exam room, recent or otherwise. But here’s a question about exam technique that suggests a much wider lesson. In a multiple-choice test, you sometimes write down an answer and then have second thoughts. Is it wise to stay with your first instincts, or better to switch? Most people would advise that the initial answer is usually better than the doubt-plagued second guess. Three-quarters of students think so, according to various surveys over the years. College instructors think so too, by a majority of 55% to 16%. The 2000 edition of Barron’s How to Prepare for the GRE Test is very clear that students should be wary of switching. “Experience indicates that many students who change answers change to the wrong answer.” This confidence would be reassuring, were it not utterly errone...

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