Short answer questions (SAQs) are brief, to the point, and a useful means of assessing students’ knowledge and comprehension of foundational information. You can use the following guidelines to draft SAQs for student assessments. Make sure that:
- Questions can be answered in a few words or phrases
- Each question has a single focus (if you need to ask several questions, use a vignette as a preface, then ask several focused questions)
- Response guidelines are built into the assessment tool (e.g. space allocated on page indicates length and complexity of answer)
- Questions may build on each other (i.e. increasing degrees of specificity without giving away the answer to previous question)
- Indicate the number of grades per question
For example, you can ask students the following two SAQs:
- How many countries make up Africa in total? (2 marks)
- List six African countries. (1 mark each; 6 total)
Short Answer Questions are generally easy to develop. Like multiple-choice tests, they are great for assessing students’ ability to remember foundational information, such as terminology. Yet, they do not require you to come up with viable distractors. Well-written SAQs provide students with clear tasks and provide you and/or TAs with a clear marking guide. Rather than asking students to explain in detail the process of eukaryotic cell reproduction, for instance, you might ask them to:
- Identify the number of phases
- Name those phases
- Explain what happens during two of those phases
This tends to lead students to provide more concise answers and TAs to find the grading easier than in long answer questions.
- Create questions that (a) can be realistically answered in a few words/phrases and (b) have a single focus per question or subquestion.
- Restrict the length of the answer by using precise wording to define the task. In other words, ask direct questions (what is…) and use action verbs such as (list, name, identify).
- Choose a topic area based on what you have covered in class and readings.
- Review questions to make sure that (a) difficulty level is appropriate for students, (b) amount of information is clearly identified, (c) mark assignment is consistent, (d) content of the questions relates to the overall goal of the assessment.
- Provide students with a guideline for length of answers (e.g. list three items…, define three of the following four terms in one or two sentences each…).
- If you use vignettes, (a) take into account how much time they will take to read, (b) make sure you do not give away the answer in the vignette, (c) give students a relatively plausible situation for the specific context.
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