Writing Short Answer Questions

Short answer items are an effective measure of a student’s ability to recall accurately specific, target information.

At the end of this activity, you will be able to identify how and when to use short answer questions in your assessments.

Let's begin by thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of using short answer questions.



You will want to write high quality short answer questions if you decide to use them. Following these tips will help you ensure high quality.

Writing Tips


Examine the example below and think about the tips you just learned. As you look at it and think about whether or not it 's a good example or does it need improvement?

___________ is a method of learned control of physiological responses of the body.

This item should be revised so that the blank is at the end of the sentence.


SOAP Notes is an acronym for _______________, ______________, _______________, and ______. The notes are part of the patient’s ________, which is a ________ document.

This item should be revised because it's best not to use too many blanks and make them all the same size. There’s also a clue for the last blank that the answer does not start with a vowel.

A patient is receiving dopamine at 12 ml/hr. The solution hanging indicates "D5W 250 ml/200 mg dopamine." The patient weighs 133 lbs. What dosage (in mcg/kg/min) is the the patient is receiving? ________________________

This item is well constructed because it asks for a very specific response and the unit of measure is provided.

When they are well written and used appropriately, short answer questions can provide effective assessment of basic learning objectives such as knowledge or comprehension of terms and definitions.


Jacobs, L. C. How to write better tests: A handbook for improving test construction skills. Evaluation Services and Testing, Indiana University-Bloomington. http://www.indiana.edu/~best/write_better_tests.shtml

Park University, Faculty Development web site, Writing Test Items. http://captain.park.edu/facultydevelopment/writing_test_items.htm


Research: Brenda Kupsch

Design: Eileen Horn

Development funded through a grant from the Health Resources and Service Administration (1D09HP03288-01-00).