Short Answer

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A short answer question is used to check recall or ability to provide names of items in graphics or pictures or specific parts, tools, words defined, etc. Short answer questions may be referred to as fill-in-the-blank; or completion questions.

A variation of the short answer question may request a list of terms or rules in which the order is not important.

Characteristics of short answer questions

  • Used for recall rather than recognition, thus providing opportunity for higher-level questions
  • Does not measure interpretation
  • Can be used to check for preciseness such as correct spelling (good when using computer grading), proper or specific names of things, especially factual knowledge
  • Requires specific, definite, exact information
  • Can be used to discriminate whether errors can be detected in a diagram, for example.

Example - good

In our class discussion on regression, what two terms were used interchangeably with the term “independent variable”?

Answer: predictor variable and explanatory variable

Example - bad

What does the acronym ENIAC mean?

Answer: Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator

Main errors:

  1. Perhaps knowledge of the exact words is not important.
  2. It's not wise to expect an exact response when "numerical" could be remembered as "numeric" and "calculator" could be remembered as "calculation," etc.

Advantages of short answer questions

  • Quite easy to write
  • Reduces possibility of guessing
  • Can discriminate achievement effectively
  • Can have a lengthy stem such as a paragraph (Caution: You generally should not expect an exact answer character-by-character.)

Disadvantages of short answer questions

  • Can be turned into a measure of memorization ability
  • Grading can be subjective.
  • Exact answers are not likely because of misspellings, order of words, etc.

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