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Strategies for Responding to Short Answer Questions

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Short answer questions are popular among instructors since they does not require much preparation and can be graded quickly. While some exams are comprised entirely of short answer questions, very often they are included on a test that also incorporates different types of questions, including multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank.

When the test involves short answer questions, you are asked to provide very brief answers to the questions. In some cases, all that is necessary is a one or two-word response. In other situations you might be required to answer with one or two sentences if the question involves some degree of elaboration.


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If you are learning in a traditional academic setting, the test that involve short answers are usually taken in the classroom. Of course, if you are taking online courses this test would likewise be taken online.  Professors know how to write good essay questions in a way that rewards students who have prepared well while stumping those who have not. So if you want to do well, make sure that you have read all of the required class material, attended the lectures and familiarize yourself with the different types of test questions.

Before discussing short answer and short essay questions, it is important to briefly highlight some of the other types of questions that could appear on an exam.

  • Keyword transformation. This involves reading one sentence containing a keyword and then substituting a different word in a second sentence while retaining the same meaning. This type of question is typically reserved for testing your vocabulary on a foreign language exam.
  • Multiple choice questions. You are given a question and statement and then must choose between 4 or 5 potential answers. In many cases, one of the answer choices tends to be obviously incorrect while there might be two answers that could technically be correct, but the test taker must choose the one that is more correct based on the nuances of the question.
  • Multiple matching. There are several variants of this. You might be asked to match a word with its definition or half of a sentence with the other half.
  • Fill in the blanks. You are given sentences in which some of the words are missing and you must choose the correct words to complete them. In some cases you are given a list of words to select from in a box whereas at other times you are required to figure out the words on your own. This is a popular type of question that is used on foreign language exams, although history and science tests sometimes utilize it as well.
  • Word formation. In this format, you are given a sentence with a work that must be changed based on the context of the sentence (i.e., He has proper ________ skills. – root word: to organize; correct word form: organization). This is also very common on foreign language tests, especially English ones.

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Question and Answer Essay

The essay question format can be given to students in two ways. The first is during an exam in the classroom. It usually requires the student to write down a relatively length answer on a piece of paper and includes an introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion just as an essay assignment would, though usually not more than 200 words. Make sure to begin with an introduction that hooks the reader followed by a clear thesis and then support your arguments based on the material you’ve learned during the course. If this question is being given to a student as a take-home exam or online, you will need to follow all of the rules of a standard essay, including double line spacing, proper font size and margins.

How to Write Good Short Answers to Questions

Once you are given the written test questions, read them clearly and make sure you understand answer is expected of you. For instance, if you are asked to compare and contrast, do not merely define the terms. Read a second time if necessary so that you can ensure that you have not misunderstood the question. As you answer the questions, utilize the QASI method for the best results.

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Start by restating the short answer questions. This shows the instructor that you understand the intent of the question.


  • In many cases, you will be asked to provide answers to multiple parts of a question. Do not accidentally skip one.
  • Do not leave any answer blank. Sometimes professionals reward partial credit, so even if you do not know an answer, make an educated guess.
  • As a rule, when it is an essay short answer question, each part of a question should get its own paragraph.
  • If sub-questions questions are themselves broken into sub-questions, make sure to answer them as well.


  • Your answer is only as good as the evidence that you provide, so make sure that you provide strong support for every argument. Remain objective and factual.
  • Use direct questions or paraphrasing for the best results.
  • Do not forget about using transitional phrases. For example, “Furthermore, in the fourth paragraph, the researcher posits…”


  • This is where the conclusion belongs. If you go out on top, it will make a positive difference on your grade.
  • Discuss what your findings mean in a broader sense and what others can learn. In some cases, you can even apply your own personal experiences or discuss recent news events that are applicable.

You need to be creative in your short answer essay. All questions should be answered correctly. You need to analyze the question that you need to reply to, since it is the main key to a though-provoking answer.

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