When in doubt, change your answer?

Have you ever taken a test and put one answer down but the more you think about it, the more you think you should change your answer? Should I stick with what I originally thought or should I change it? What if I change it and my first answer is the right one, that would be so frustrating but what if I do change it and I get the correct answer? What should I do? This is what I am going to explore in this blog, what should you do?

Below is a video that will give you an overview of what I am going to discuss.

Supposedly, if you change your answer from what your initial first instinct was, then you are more likely to be correct or successful in your answer (Kruger, Wirtz, and Miller, 2005, p. 725). I think that this argument can be argued against if a person takes a longer time to think of their answer first, before putting their initial answer down. However, I guess that if you are thinking for a long enough time, your answer may well have changed from the original, first instinct to a counter answer therefore, proving this argument to be true.

Although, Brownstein and Green (2000, cited in Kruger, Wirtz, and Miller, 2005, p. 725) give a counter argument to Kruger, Wirtz, and Miller. They state that if you change your original answer you are more likely to be wrong.

The potential reason why people prefer sticking with their instinct is due to memory bias. Times when people have changed their answer, they have ended up not doing well or it has turned out unsuccessful and this negativity surrounding changing their answer is more memorable than times when they have changed their answer and the result being successful. For example, if you’re on the motorway, when you change lanes because the other lane seems to be going faster and as soon as you do, the lane you used to be in moves faster, which is even more irritating. It is due to this irritation that we remember the event more therefore, in the future, we decide to stick with our instinct to not change and to just stick in the lane we are in (Kruger, Wirtz, and Miller, 2005, p. 726).

In the first study that (Kruger, Wirtz, and Miller, 2005, p. 726) mention, pupils were informed prior to the test about what would happen. That they were doing a study on changing answers or sticking to the original. I think that this could have influenced pupils as to whether they changed their answers or kept them the same. Maybe these pupils were ones who never changed answers or vice versa and now thought about changing them which could have impacted this study. The result concluded that there were more right to wrong answers by changing answers therefore, disagreeing with the idea that when in doubt, you should change your answer (Kruger, Wirtz, and Miller, 2005, p. 726) but there were various limitations in this study that could have caused this outcome such as, the examiners didn’t see the original answer as it was rubbed out, their rubbed out answers were not their first answer or maybe the eraser mark is from accidently selecting the wrong answer and therefore, it wasn’t their first instinct (Kruger, Wirtz, and Miller, 2005, p. 727).  Although, study three agreed that changing your answer is more beneficial (Kruger, Wirtz, and Miller, 2005, p. 729).

In workshop, we tested this theory. I was in a group of three. One student was going to always choose to always stick with her first answer, I was going to change my answer each time and the other student moved the cups. Our aim was to try and guess which cup the toy car was under. To us, it seemed that this would be a 50/50 chance. However, the result was that the student who stuck with her answer, never got it right and I got it right three out of four times by changing my original answer. The response in our group was, “This is so weird”, “This is so odd” and “unreal”. It seemed that this theory was correct and we were blown away. However, afterwards I thought to myself, there are limitations to our experiment. We were being told to change our answers and maybe if I took more time to consider my first answer (rather than not taking any time at all because I knew I was to change my answer) the result could have been different.

Bauer, Kopp, and Fischer (2007) believe that those who have been told the benefits of changing their answers, when in doubt, had scored higher upon changing their answers than those who were not told about the benefits. However, if this is only for when a person is in doubt, how beneficial is it to change your answer when you are not in doubt but know it’s the other answer or you are in semi-doubt.

Therefore, something to consider for my future development is should teachers inform pupils of the potential benefits of changing their answers from their initial ones. This article seems to say so but, the amount by which the test results increased was not that significant. As long as you only change your answer once, this is the case (Bauer, Kopp, and Fischer, 2007). Although, if teachers tell pupils of these benefits, some pupils may not use their actually intelligence and knowledge to answer correctly in tests but instead, they may choose another answer just because they might score higher.

According to Merritt (2009), you are three times more successful if you change your initial answer. Contrastingly, this article says that you should only change your initial answer if you have logical reason to or you can back it up. You should not change your answer just because you are in doubt or you worry your answer might be wrong which, conflicts with Bauer, Kopp, and Fischer’s (2007) research.

Nevertheless, two other experiments were done to test the theory of whether to change or stay and the results where that in both college exams, sticking with their original answer and changing their answer resulted in more correct answers (Couchman, 2015). This result seems to have come about because the students were instructed to put their confidence level beside each answer. Pupils appear to have chosen carefully if they were choosing to stick or change. They had reason to because of how confident they were on whether they were sure of their answer being correct. Hence, teachers need to be careful what they inform students of such as, telling students to stick with their first answer or to always change it (Couchman, 2015).

In essence, statistics show that you are more likely to have correct answer if you change your answer from the initial one you out down. This links to the basic mathematical concepts that connect to one another such as counting, quantifying links to the basic ideas of chance and probability of getting the answer correct, as this idea looks at which choice is most likely to lead to the correct answer or success.

I would like to further pupils understanding of fundamental mathematics in the future by carrying out this demonstration in the classroom and children could use tally charts to see which method (changing or sticking) is more successful than the other. Furthermore, pupils could look at the different perspectives that this issue can be looked at. For example, do the toy car test that we did in workshop or role play a grocery store. This would involve standing in a busy line for the till, and deciding whether to change to a seemingly faster queue or to stick in the one you’re in (Ma, 2010, p. 104).

So, what should you do? Should you change your answer or keep the initial answer you put down? Well, statistically, you should change your answer if you are unsure of the first answer because you are three times more likely to get the answer right if you do change (Merritt, 2009). Although, you should take time to think about why you might be changing, think of it logically, do not change just out of self-doubt but only if you can back up the reason why you are going to change your answer (Merritt, 2009). After all, it was in the experiment that pupils were not pressured to either change or keep their first answer that they ended up have more correct answers than in the experiments where they were instructed to do one or the other (Couchman, 2015).

List of references:

1 thought on “When in doubt, change your answer?

  1. Richard

    What a fascinating post Rachel! You have really looked into this, and also applied it to education and exams! The links to PUFM are really interesting too… I think I will go and do some more reading before I next have to sit a test, and will take on your advice!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *