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Assessment: Short answer questions

Developing short answer questions

Short answer questions:

  • Usually require students to respond to an open-ended prompt using anywhere from a few words to a few sentences.
  • Open-ended nature  allows students to reveal their knowledge and thought process with a great deal of flexibility.
  • Suited to tap higher order thinking beyond rote knowledge.
  • Generally faster to construct than multiple choice and are more difficult to guess correctly.
  • Can reveal many of the same types of knowledge as essays, but their length and structure makes them easier and faster to mark.
  • Will require more time and effort to mark than other question types, such as multiple choice or matching.
  • Can be challenging to develop a key that can accommodate the variety of responses.

Tips for developing short answer questions

  1. Avoid using short answer questions to assess knowledge that could be evaluated using forced-choice or completion questions. This will reduce marking time.
  2. Ensure the question prompt contains clear, simple, direct language, and be specific about how the question should be answered. Short answer questions require more time to answer, and thus the cost is higher to the student if they misunderstand the question.
  3. Consider providing markers to let students know how much effort to devote to the question. Some strategies include: stating the point-value of the question; providing a text box that limits the size of the response; including a statement such as, “In a few words…”. This will help them distribute their time and effort appropriately.
  4. Write your own response to the questions and use this as the basis for your marking key. Revise your marking key as you encounter acceptable answers.