Pupillary Pathways

Strategies for Answering NBEO Questions

Posted by Amanda Dexter on Feb 15, 2016 11:09:29 AM
Amanda Dexter
Dr. Amanda K. Dexter received her optometric training at Southern California College of Optometry in Fullerton, California, where she was Class of 2010 Valedictorian. She also completed a residency in Primary Care and Ocular Disease at the Veteran's Affairs Hospital in San Diego, California. Dr. Dexter is the Manager and Program Coordinator for OptoPrep, the premiere online study resource for the NBEO Part I & II.


Are you finding yourself feeling overwhelmed by the length of the NBEO and the amount of knowledge you’ll be tested on for the upcoming Part 1 exam?

Does test anxiety tend to keep you from achieving the results that reflect how much effort you put into your studies? We all know that the best way to improve your chances of success is to study carefully and fully understand the material; however, even well-prepared students can make silly mistakes on a multiple-choice exam, or can fall prey to distractors that appear very similar to the correct answer.  

In order to help you do your best on the NBEO exam, we’ve come up with a few strategies to help maximize your chances at arriving at the correct answer, even when you feel stumped on a question!

What is the Question REALLY Asking?

Several questions on the NBEO exam will include background information that may or may not be relevant to the real question that is being asked. When studying with practice questions, make sure that you also practice carefully reading each question, identifying the pertinent information, and disregarding information that is irrelevant. This will help you simplify the question and get to the bottom of what is really being asked. Once you have done this, you can focus on your optometric knowledge and critical thinking skills to arrive at the correct answer. By practicing these techniques, come test day, you will be able to minimize mistakes that often occur by simply not fully reading or understanding the question. 

Is the Question a Multiple Response Item?

The vast majority of the items (approximately 85%) presented on the NBEO Part 1 exam are traditional multiple choice items that will consist of a stem, followed by three to five options, one of which will be the correct response. But don’t forget that about 15% of the items are considered multiple-response questions in which there are four to seven answer options, and two to four of the options will be correct. You are required to select ALL of the appropriate options in order to get credit for the question. 

Be sure to identify the number of responses required for each question so that you don’t make the mistake of selecting only one option when the question asks for two or three!

Try to Anticipate the Question BEFORE Reading the Answer Options

NBEO exam questions will be presented with a list of answers, in which several of them will be considered “distractors.” Cover up the answer options with your hand as you read the question and try to come up with what you believe to be the answer before uncovering. By anticipating the correct response before you see all of the answer options, you will minimize your chances of being distracted by choices that are meant to stray you away from the correct answer. 

If you see the response that you anticipated, click on that answer, but still read the other options to make sure that none of the other answers is better. If you do not see the response that you expected, then consider some of the strategies below to help eliminate answers that are likely incorrect. 

What if You are Stuck on a Question?

If you are having a hard time answering a question, below are a few tips and tricks to help narrow down your answer choices for a better chance of successfully answering the question correctly:

  • First, eliminate all answer options that you are sure are incorrect
  • Treat each remaining answer option as a "true" or "false" question considering the stem of the question (if false, eliminate)
  • You can usually also eliminate any answer options that are completely unfamiliar to you (these are often "distractors")
  • Responses that use absolute words, such as “always” or “never” are less likely to be correct that ones that use “usually” or “most likely”
  • If the answer is a number, you can often toss out the high and low options and consider the middle range numbers
  • If two options basically mean the same thing, neither of them are likely correct (if there can't be 2 correct answers)
  • If two options look the same, one of them is probably the correct answer (and the other is likely a distractor)
  • If two responses mean the exact opposite, chances are one them is correct 
  • The longest answer option with the most detail is often the correct one
  • In some cases, the correct answer to a question may be presented in the question or background information of another question on the test. If you remember seeing previous questions in which this could be the case, go back and check!
  • If you really have no clue… Go back and forth from answering B and C! These are statistically the most correct answers on multiple choice exams

Pace Yourself!

Each section of NBEO Part 1 is 3 1/2 hours in length with 125 questions to complete. That leaves just over a minute and a half to answer each question. I would suggest initially spending one minute per question. If you can’t answer the question during the first minute, move on. This will leave you plenty of time to be able to go back and check your answers before the test time is up. Again, there may be clues in other questions during the test that may help you with questions that may have stumped you earlier on, so it is important to save time to review. 

Don’t forget that your first answer is often times the correct one, so don’t go back and keep changing all of your answers unless you originally misread the question and are very confident in your switch!

-Dr. Dexter 

The Top 15 Tips and Tricks for Studying for Part I of NBEO®

Top 15 Tips

We’ve put together a ton of great tips and tricks for studying for Part I of NBEO along with two tailored study programs that will help you thoroughly prepare for the big day. Remember, you’ve made it this far and you can totally do this!

Some of the Top 15 Tips include:

  • Familiarize Yourself with the Test Format
  • Tackle the Weak Subjects Early
  • Start Sooner and Ease Into It
  • ...and 12 more!

Download NBEO Part I Study Guide PDF - 5 MB

Topics: NBEO