The Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) tests a candidate’s knowledge of psychology through 225 scored multiple-choice questions spanning 8 different domains. To prepare for this exam, a candidate needs more than simply knowledge of the field; he or she also needs to have a very specific set of test-taking skills. Such skills include knowing how to interpret the various questions as well as the best practices for choosing the most likely answer.
This article will walk you through some of these skills and best practices. (If you are looking for more general information on the EPPP, we recommend you read our earlier post What is the EPPP? or request our free EPPP Sample Kit.)
Let’s begin with some basic examples of the kinds of questions you might expect to encounter on the EPPP.
Here is an example of a type of question you might encounter on the EPPP in the Assessment and Diagnosis Domain.
The male-to-female ratio for children and adolescents with ADHD is approximately:
As you can see, each question has four possible answers, only one of which is correct. In this case, the correct answer is B, as the gender ratio is approximately 2:1 (though it may be higher in clinical settings, where comorbidity with ODD/CD is high). Answers A, C, and D are not gender ratios that are approximate with ADHD, which makes these answers incorrect.
Here is another example of a type of question you might encounter on the Growth and Lifespan Development Domain.
What theorist placed emphasis on the importance of relationships with others as an important factor in cognitive development?
In this case, the correct answer would be B. Lev Vygotsky is known for his social-cognitive theory of cognitive development. Piaget (answer A) is known for a theory of cognitive development that focused on adaptation, assimilation, and accommodation. Kolhberg (answer C) and Gilligan (answer D) are both associated with a theory of moral development.
On a test like the EPPP, it’s extremely important to take a methodological approach to each question. This will give you a strategy for each question and will help you stay cognitively focused and less preoccupied with any feelings of anxiety. It will also help you slow down to read each questions carefully.
Assuming that you will be taking appropriate structured breaks, you will have 55 seconds to thoroughly read through each question and contemplate the correct/best answer. Often, when stressed or anxious, we unknowingly read and answer quicker than necessary. What you can do is take a deep breath and remind yourself to take the full 55 seconds available to you (unless you clearly know the answer in less time).
If you read a question thoroughly the first time, then you decrease the likelihood of using up time re-reading it a second and third time. Reading a question thoroughly should involve trying to identify the domain and the key term that the question is about. Then ask yourself, “What is the question telling me, what is it asking me, and what do I know about what is being asked of me.”
After you’ve understood the question, do not immediately go and read the answers. First try to answer the question in your head before looking at the answer choices. Then select the answer choice that best matches the answer in your head.
A rule of thumb is always to go with your first answer choice, and roughly 80% of the time, your first selection is typically correct. Once you’ve made a thought-out choice, stay with it, resisting the impulse to second guess yourself. There will be times, however, when you will need to simply wager a guess, which is what we will address next.
A key skill for taking a test like the EPPP is knowing how to guess the correct answer. Keep in mind that you only get points for choosing the correct answer and you do not get penalized if you get an answer wrong. This means that if you are uncertain about an answer, it is in your best interest simply to guess.
Guessing does not always have to be random, as there are some general principles that can guide a person in making an educated choice. Over the span of 175 scored questions, the accumulated benefit of knowing the best practices for educated guessing could make the difference between a pass or fail.
One technique for effective guessing is knowing how to watch for context clues. For example, if you are being asked about a particular theory or psychologist, maybe you won’t know the answer completely, but you can make a good guess based on the context of the question.
The main skill to effective guessing is knowing how to use your knowledge to eliminate wrong answers. If you are making a totally random guess out of four possible answers, then you only have a 25% chance of getting the correct answer. But if you are able to use your knowledge to eliminate 1 out of the 4 possible choices, then that is a 33% chance of getting the correct answer. If you are able to use your knowledge to eliminate 2 out of the 4 answers, then that is a 50% chance of getting the correct answer. On the other hand, if you are able to use your knowledge to eliminate 3 out of the 4 possible answers, then that is a 100% chance of getting the correct answer. Thus, when you come to a question that you don’t know the answer to, don’t just quickly make a random guess and move on. Instead, read the answer choices carefully and use your knowledge base to eliminate as many wrong answers as possible. By doing this, you will greatly increase the odds of guessing the correct answer, especially over the course of the entire exam.
Here is an example of how this might look in practice, from the Growth and Lifespan Development Domain.
What do we call the phenomenon whereby subtle emotional signals from a parent influence the infant’s behavior?
a. The discrepancy hypothesis
b. Separation anxiety
c. Social referencing
In this case, answer C is correct because social referencing refers to the subtle emotional signals from the parent that influence the infant’s behavior. If you didn't know this answer, let’s consider how you might be able to narrow your options through eliminating some of the answer choices. Suppose you know that the discrepancy hypothesis (answer A) refers to a cognitive theory stating that infants acquire schemes for familiar objects around 7 months of age. Knowing this, you could eliminate Answer A as an option. Similarly, if you know that separation anxiety (answer B) refers to an infant’s fearful reaction to being separated from their attachment objects, then you could also eliminate that as an option. Finally, you may know that synchrony (answer D) refers to the back-and-forth interaction between an infant and caregiver. By thus eliminating wrong options, you can infer that the correct answer is C, even if synchrony is not something you specifically remember.
Another principle to effective guessing is to apply the True/False Test. Determine if one of the answers as a stand-alone fact is correct or incorrect. This will help you eliminate answers that are obviously incorrect.
Bottom line: When you see a question you don’t know the answer to do not simply wager a random guess, but work to first narrow down your options.
Many people go into the EPPP feeling rushed and with their body full of adrenalin. In such a state, it’s easy to fail to read the questions carefully. Sometimes people end up getting wrong answers on questions they knew the answers for simply because they were too hasty when reading it.
When carefully reading the question and answer choices, watch for answers that are distractors. Also watch for answers that may be correctly answering a different question to the one actually being asked.
Also watch out for questions that are counterintuitive, or which involve double negatives. Sometimes counterintuitive questions involve being asked to identify what is not the case. For example, here is a type of question you might find on the EPPP.
Which of the following is NOT an example of normative conformity?
a. A teenager wants to belong to the school's popular group, so she dresses like the most popular girls in her class.
b. A worker wants to be accepted by his peers, so he joins the group for happy hour after work.
c. A young boy does not want to stick out like a sore thumb, so he does what everyone else is doing during recess.
d. A tourist is welcomed by a local guide and learns that the proper way to greet someone in this new country is to bow his head, so he does this to new acquaintances.
If you read the question hastily, you may have “normative conformity” in your mind and then quickly pick an example of normative conformity. But the question is asking what is NOT an example of normative conformity, and so answer D is the correct answer.
Another reason it is important to read the answers carefully is that sometimes you may be led astray by an answer that is only partially, not fully, correct. Consider the following example from the Ethics/Legal/Professional Issues Domain.
Teresa is a forensic psychologist conducting a court-ordered psychological evaluation of Mr. Goleman. Which of the following would be Teresa’s best course of action in reference to Mr. Goleman’s right to privilege regarding her findings?
a. Teresa should determine whether the findings would be favorable to Mr. Goleman and let him assert or waive privilege at that point in time.
b. Mr. Goleman is not entitled to confidentiality regarding the test findings.
c. In the informed consent process, Mr. Goleman should be informed that the findings will be released to the court.
d. Mr. Goleman does not have the right to privilege, and no discussion of this matter is warranted.
In this case, answer C represents the best practice in this situation. Answer A is incorrect because the court, not Mr. Goleman, is Teresa’s client; thus, it needs to be established before testing begins with Mr. Goleman that the results will be released to the court. Answer B is close, but not correct: Mr. Goleman does not have privilege, but he does have the right to confidentiality in all other aspects. For example, the therapist cannot reveal the findings to a third party other than the court. The first part of answer D is correct, but the therapist should disclose this issue to the examinee; hence, the whole answer is invalidated.
It is especially important to read the questions carefully when you come across questions written in the negative, with double negatives, or with absolute words. Try substituting an equivalent positive word statement for negatives, or substitute a qualified term for an absolute one (e.g., “frequently” for “always,” or “typically” for “every”) to see if the truth-value of the statement still stands.
Just as it is important to read the question carefully, it is also important to carefully read the answer choices and rationales when working through practice exams. Simply memorizing the correct answer will not help you if you don’t understand why that answer is correct. We encourage you not to move on until you fully understand the rationale and can explain it in your own words.
Many people instinctively approach mock exam questions and rationales through the lens of their clinical experience. While this can be a good thing, it may also present challenges. Sometimes a person feels a sense of disconnect between the textbook-type answer required on the exam versus what they feel “ought” to be the right answer. In such cases, it may be helpful to remember that the purpose of the EPPP is to test knowledge in a very textbook-type way. If you find yourself disagreeing with a rationale, that’s fine, but try to keep that separate in your mind from the textbook-type answer that the exam is looking for.
As you read and work through each question and answer choices, remember that all the information you need to reference is in the question itself and the answer choices provided. Avoid the temptation to “read outside” what is being presented to you in the question and answer choices.
This sample kit will introduce you to your licensing exam and a guide you to the tools available for your study plan.