Short Answer Questions

The short answer question requires students to supply the appropriate words, numbers, or symbols to answer a question or complete a statement. Reserve short answer questions for situations when supplying the answer is a necessary part of the learning outcome to be measured, such as:

  • when the intent is to have students recall the information (instead of recognize it)
  • where computational problems are used
  • where a multiple-choice, true-false, or check all that apply would make the answer obvious.


Provides a wide sampling of content.

  • Efficiently measures lower levels of cognitive ability.
  • Minimizes guessing as compared to multiple-choice or true-false questions.
  • Takes less time to complete than multiple-choice questions, so can cover more content area.


  • Difficult to phrase the question or incomplete statement so that only one answer is correct.
  • Misspelling can be a problem, particularly when computer scored, making test scores a mixture of content learning and spelling skill.
  • Difficult to measure learning objectives requiring more than simple recall of information.
  • Often include more irrelevant clues than do other question types.
  • More time consuming to score than multiple-choice or true-false questions.
  • More difficult to score since multiple answers may have to be considered if the question was not properly written.

Tips for Writing Short Answer Questions

  • Questions should require a single word answer or a brief and definite statement.
  • Avoid statements that are answered equally well by several terms.
  • A direct question is often more desirable than an incomplete statement.
  • Blank spaces should usually occur at the end of the statement rather than the beginning or within.
  • Omit only key words. The meaning or main point of the question is lost if too many elements are removed.
  • If the question requires a numerical answer, indicate the units in which it is to be expressed.
  • Avoid verbal clues and specific determiners (e.g., the, an, a):