Candidates will dedicate a large portion of their time to answering essay questions. This means that a lot of time will need to be spent ensuring that questions have been structured in a clear, concise manner. It is recommended that you have the required learning objectives in mind when coming up with essay questions, to ensure that these are reflected in the questions. Below you can read some tips on writing effective essay questions. You can create essay questions when conducting Formative or Summative assessments in Surpass under Item Authoring.
Writing an in-depth Essay Question
Example A: List the stages of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from the most immediate to the least immediate.
The above example does not meet the criteria for effective essay questions. This is because it only requires students to give a list – no original or critical thinking is required here as students will effectively regurgitate information.
Example B: Explain the influence Maslow’s hierarchy of needs had on existing psychological and physiological ideas…
The example above is an effective essay question – not only do students need to compose a response with their knowledge of the subject matter, but they also need to write several sentences to sufficiently answer the question. Moreover, students have room for originality, with the ability to provide a wide variety of examples to support their argument, and their response can be structured in various ways.
Writing an Essay Question to test Critical Thinking Skills
Example A: What are the advantages and limitations of raising free range livestock for food?
The example above does not test critical thinking skills as a candidate only needs to recall the subject matter they have learnt.
Example B: Given the advantages and limitations of raising free range livestock for food, how far should British farmers consider free range farming? In answering this question you will need to consider issues of space, weather conditions and farming economics in Britain.
This is an essay question that would test critical thinking skills – the candidate is being asked to consider a variety of factors. They need to make an evaluative judgement and explain their reasoning for the judgement which will then be assessed by examiners.
Making an Essay Question Focused
Writing an overly general essay question can be confusing to the candidate – they will not know whether or not to focus on one area of knowledge or to write a general overview. Be sure that your question is appropriately focused.
Example A: Describe the impact of alcohol on the body.
Example B: Describe the impact of alcohol on the functioning of the brain. Give three examples.
You can see above the focus of the question is becoming increasingly clear. Providing more focused exam questions allows an examiner to better gauge a student’s knowledge – with a vague question, the student has scope to write down anything they know, whereas with a focused question they are asked to draw on and explain/describe specific knowledge. A focused question also means less confusion for students when deciding how to answer.