One-Minute Essay

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A one-minute essay question (or one-minute question) is a focused question with a specific goal that can, in fact, be answered within a minute or two.

A 1-minute essay question can be used to check understanding, provide feedback, and promote reflection.

Characteristics of one-minute essay questions

  • Short, clear questions that require responses that can be answered quickly with knowledge or opinions the students expect to have.
  • Can be spontaneous based on unexpected outcomes in a lesson or activity.
  • Can be used to state what part of the lesson is most confusing (muddiest point).
  • Can be used as an indicator of whether lesson’s concepts are understood (e.g., list the three most important concepts in today’s lesson).
  • Can require a few words or a couple paragraphs.

Example - good

In one to three minutes, describe what was most confusing in today’s lecture (today’s homework, reading, etc.). Why was this concept confusing?

Example - bad

What is your opinion of euthanasia?

Main errors in this proposed one-minute essay question:

  1. It would be very difficult to provide a sufficient answer within a couple minutes.

  2. Without additional guidelines, students may try to answer in a manner in which they think the instructor wants them to answer.

Advantages of one-minute essay questions

  • Useful in any discipline.
  • Can be answered quickly and reviewed quickly.
  • Can promote reflection and metacognition.
  • Can show what students THINK the lesson theme is
  • Can reveal what students value in the lesson
  • Can reveal misconceptions
  • Can check on background knowledge
  • Can show that you are interested in students' opinions.
  • Usually ungraded, but credit should be given for participation
  • Can be composed quickly and at the last moment, depending on faculty and student needs.
  • Can be used to improve teaching.

Disadvantages of one-minute essay questions

  • Does not check in-depth understanding
  • Students may not answer them seriously if they are ungraded and spontaneous.


Special thanks to the Schreyer Institute for their contributions to these pages.