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8 tips for designing short answer questions

Previously, we discussed how to design effective multiple choice questions. In that article, we covered ten ways to create multiple choice questions and debated multiple choice questions vs. short answer questions.

While both formats have their merits, short answer questions can give instructors a better look at their students’ understanding of the material. Short answer questions are an excellent way to give students space to explain their answers and determine which students did not grasp the lesson.

This article will discuss helpful strategies for creating smart and effective short answer questions to assess a students’ understanding and design these questions accordingly. This guide is beneficial to new instructors looking to refine their approach.

Short answer questions vs. multiple choice questions

Multiple choice questions, especially when created using our guide, can be a simple and effective way to assess your students’ learning. However, while this may seem like the best way to develop an exam, some students find multiple choice exams daunting and challenging to understand.

The main benefit of short answer questions is that students can explain how they came to their conclusion. If you replace this explanation with a simple “yes or no,” there’s no measurable way to tell if your student has absorbed the information.

Knowing this, we’d like to teach you our top eight tips for writing the best short answer questions for your class.

Teacher writing in a notebook

How to write short answer questions

  1. Clear and concise questions: As an instructor, you should write your questions clearly and concisely and in an easily understandable way. If the question’s wording is convoluted, students will waste more time dissecting the problem than answering it.
  2. Avoid misleading questions: Questions should be straightforward and avoid misleading language. The goal of examinations is to gauge your students’ level of understanding. Remember that “tricky” questions have no place in a proper exam.
  3. Avoid new language: Avoid using any new terms or language when writing short answer questions. All wording used in your examination should be familiar to your students to avoid confusion.
  4. Memory triggers: Short answer questions should include memory triggers or recognizable language to help students jog their memory. This technique will be beneficial to students who suffer from exam anxiety or tend to fail under pressure.
  5. Useful prompts: When designing your short answer questions, include helpful writing prompts. Using open-ended questions will allow students to provide more context with their answers and aid in the evaluation process. Prompts should also be within the question itself, including writing suggestions or language that the student will recognize as a writing prompt.
  6. Reading comprehension: Reading comprehension questions are the bread and butter of examinations. Be sure to include some reading comprehension short answer questions in your exam to encourage students to absorb the course material. Being able to read and relay information is an essential skill for both professional and personal situations.
  7. Room for explanation: Give students an opening to explain by writing “Please explain” after the question. Like the useful prompts tip, leaving room for students to demonstrate their understanding gives instructors a look at their student’s development. Any student can make an educated guess and write down a few words, but asking them to break down their answer will provide a better impression of what they’ve learned.
  8. Proper page real estate: In addition to creating an opening for an explanation after short answer questions, make sure you also provide enough physical space. There’s nothing worse than answering a short answer question and running out of lines. Be sure to give each short answer question an appropriate amount of page real estate. Alternatively, you can indicate how long you’d like your students’ answers to be within the short answer question.
Teacher writing notes on a laptop

Digital grading software like Crowdmark allows instructors to design multiple choice questions and short answer questions, distribute exams, and provide meaningful feedback. Digital grading tools are essential for the success of online learning.

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