P Keys to Writing Short Answer Questions and Getting a Good Score

Writing Short Answer Questions Is Easy If You Follow These Suggestions

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For a lot of students, taking multiple-choice questions is a piece of cake, especially since the correct answers are literally right in front of their eyes. This is why a lot of writing short answer questions as they are often the most difficult part of a test as well as the most heavily weighted. Sometimes short answer and essay questions appear at the end of a multiple-choice test whereas some professors prefer to create a test consisting exclusively of short answer exam questions. Either way, the point of answering short answer questions is to demonstrate that you have knowledge about an important concept based on the course material and can express it in a clear, concise manner. While there is no surefire way to ace a test, if you plan things right, you stand a good chance of succeeding. 

It is difficult to know how to write an SAQ if you do not have some background understanding on what it entails. In short, writing short answer questions involve doing some analysis, evaluation, compare/contrast, illustration, or summary of key concepts, among the various possible types. Professors often prefer to give SAQ exams because they are easier to put together than other types of exams and force the student to use their critical thinking skills, something that a multiple-choice or true/false test does not always measure. Sometimes a short answer can be one-sentence long whereas others can take up an entire page. It really depends on the professor's intentions. For longer answers, writing short answer questions can mean starting off with an introduction paragraph that explains what will be discussed followed by a second and even third paragraph in which they make their case. 

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A lot of professors like to create short answer questions that contain a mix of essays, SAQ and fill-in-the-blank. This offers something of a balance as the essay questions and SAQ both require students to apply their knowledge whereas fill-in-the-blank measures the student's ability to remember important facts, dates, prominent figures, and definitions without the need to expand upon it. The main difference between essays and SAQ is that the former is less structured, while the latter generally requires that the student follow strict guidelines while answering the questions.

So how do you know if you have succeeded at writing short answer questions? The professor generally expects several things from you. First, you have directly answered the question and conveyed information in a structured manner that demonstrates your knowledge. Read over the questions carefully so that there are no misunderstandings. If you follow the prompt and are able to explain facts in a greater context, you are on the right path. Second, you achieved this without getting off track. Students often make the mistake of thinking that if they add as much information as possible, the professor will be impressed. But remember, you are not being tested on your ability to write a bunch of random, disconnected sentences. Along with properly focused answers, it is important that they contain structure. For these kinds of tests, you have to demonstrate strong writing abilities. This certain provides no relief if you are somebody who frequently says, “I hate writing papers!” Nonetheless, if you want a high score on your test, you will need to learn how to write. If time permits, create an outline before you dive into the question.


This will allow you to stay focused on the thesis or argument and will create a connection between the different points. Another element is the ability to be accurate and factual. You cannot simply state an opinion; you will need to draw upon the course materials to back up everything that you write. Reading all of the class readings, attending all of the lectures, taking good notes and meeting with the professor during their office hours can help with this. The ability to understand and remember the facts along with using them in support of your argument demonstrates that you know the material thoroughly. Finally, presentation matters. If you are writing out the test answers with a pencil and sheet of paper, make sure it is legible. After all, it is impossible to demonstrate your ability to convey information if the professor cannot read your handwriting. The details such as proper grammar, spelling mistakes, and smooth flow of the answer should also not be overlooked. If possible, leave yourself with a bit of time to proofread and edit your answers before submitting it to the professor. It could really make a difference in terms of critical exam points. 

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