Short answer questions are often used in exams to check students’ ability to provide specific information. A short answer question takes various forms, it may ask a student to complete a sentence, supply a missing word or words, or provide a short descriptive answer. This question can be easily constructed in Surpass when conducting Formative or Summative assessments. Below we will outline the strengths and weaknesses of this question type, along with tips for writing effective short answer questions.
Strengths and Weaknesses
- They are simple and easy to write
- It is easier to measure knowledge of subject matter
- A longer stem can be used
- Marking is often simpler and easier as an answer is right or wrong
- As the answer is often set, the risk of marker subjectivity is decreased.
- Can encourage students to memorise information without understanding subject matter
- Grading can be subjective if the answer if open to interpretation
- Examiners will need to judge whether mis-spelt words should be accepted
Tips for Writing Short Answer Questions
1) Don’t copy a question from a textbook – attempt to make the question original and relevant.
2) Be sure that the assessment question clearly lays out what information the student is expected to provide. E.g. “Albert Einstein was…” is too vague, whereas “Albert Einstein was renowned in the field of…” is clear.
3) If a negative statement or question must be used, place the negative word or phrase in capitals, or bold or underline it e.g. “Name a type of fish that is NOT found in saltwater.”
4) Make it clear in the question how the student should answer, and what kind of answer they are expected to give. You can do this with keywords such as “describe” or “summarise” and if necessary, tell the student “you should phrase your answer as a…”
5) Avoid giving clues to the correct answer – For example if the correct answer is plural and some of the answers are not, do not include a question which hints at a plural answer.
6) Make it clear to students whether or not they will receive marks for showing their workings out and if they need to write their answer to so many decimal places or in a certain format, if this is relevant.
7) Keep the blank(s) the same length throughout the test so that the length of the blank does not serve as a clue to the student about the word or phrase needed.
8) If you are using a “fill in the blank” short answer question, try to place the blank at the end of the question or statement, so that the student can read the entire body of text first.