Developing Short Answer Items
Short answer items (also called supplied response or constructed response items) are an effective measure of a studentĀ's ability to accurately recall specific, target information. Short answer items require students to either complete a statement (fill-in-the-blank or completion items) or answer a direct question using a single word or brief phrase. The nature of supplied response items lends itself well to the effective assessment of lower level learning objectives such as knowledge or comprehension of terms and definitions. As opposed to traditional objective measures (true-false, matching, multiple-choice, etc.) that assess the recognition of correct information, short answer items require students to independently generate their own response. While this type of recall assessment is more cognitively demanding, the independent nature of the responses makes scoring much more subjective. Due to the subjective interpretation of short answer items and the increased challenges in assessing the accuracy of responses, instructors should carefully examine the utility of short answer items in relationship to their instructional objectives.
|Scores less likely to be influenced by guessing
||Accuracy of assessment may be influenced by handwriting/spelling skills
|Requires increased cognitive ability to generate answers
||Subjective nature can make scoring difficult and time consuming
|Provide diagnostic information when looking at types of errors
||Difficult to write items so that desired knowledge is clear
|Promotes more in-depth study as students must recall answers
||May overestimate learning due to bluffing
|Effective for assessing who, what, where, and when information
||Generally limited to knowledge and comprehension questions
|Relatively easy to construct
||Not suitable for item-analysis
|Effective as either a written or oral assessment
||Often criticized for encouraging rote memorization
|Quicker for students to complete than multiple-choice questions
Tips for Writing Short Answer Items:
- Questions must be clearly worded so that students understand the nature
of the information being requested. In order to facilitate understanding,
phrase the item so that the required answer is brief and specific. In addition,
provide clear clues to indicate the expected response.
- To ensure that a short answer question is an effective measure of student
knowledge, require students to fill in important terms or phrases. For example,
when assessing understanding of definitions, have students supply the term.
- When utilizing short answer questions that require a numerical response,
specify the degree of precision that is expected and the relevant units of
- To prevent confusion and make scoring more precise, phrase question so there
is only one answer or a limited range of answers possible. If multiple answers
will correctly complete the item, ensure that there is a pre-established scoring
rubric to deal with variations in response.
- Leave information to be filled in at or near the end of the question. This
type of arrangement allows for ease of reading and enhances the efficiency
- Utilize clear, explicit instructions that specify the format of the target
answer (one word, multiple words, etc.) as well as the amount of acceptable
variation (spelling, synonyms, etc.).
- To prevent confusion and ensure requested information is clear, limit the
number of blanks within each short answer question. In addition, ensure that
blanks are the same physical length to prevent context clues to the correct
- Limit the influence of extraneous clues to the correct answer by utilizing
correct, neutral grammar. Avoid providing grammatical clues to the correct
answer (plurals, "a" versus "an," specific modifiers, etc.) and make certain
that all correct responses can fit grammatically in the blank.
- To reduce the emphasis on rote memorization of trivial information, do not
use direct quotes from the text or lecture. Rather, phrase short answer items
using unique or novel wording.
Ideas to Enhance the Effectiveness of Short Answer Assessments:
To ensure an accurate measure of target information, use direct questions rather
than fill-in-the-blank or incomplete statements. This type of wording reduces
confusion or ambiguity concerning the request information and directs students
toward the relevant information.
One of the benefits of short answer items is that they often encourage more
intensive study of information due to the increased cognitive demands of recall
over recognition. To promote this type of invested studying, award more credit
for short answer items than for lower level recognition items (true-false, matching,
While short answer items often target knowledge or comprehension understanding,
effectively developed completion items can also be utilized to assess application,
synthesis, analysis, and evaluation levels. One means of measuring this type
of higher-order understanding is to utilize combinations of short answer statements
within a given paragraph. When implementing the paragraph format, be sure that
desired knowledge is clearly specified.
||Is a short answer item an appropriate assessment of the learning objective?
||Does the content of the short answer question measure knowledge appropriate
to the desired learning goal?
||Is the item clearly worded and stated in language appropriate to the student
||Is there only one clearly correct answer?
||Can the item be answered briefly and concisely using a single word or
||Does the positioning of the item blank promote efficient scoring?
||Does the desired knowledge represent a key word or phrase?
||Is there a limited number of blanks in the short answer item?
||Do instructions clearly specify the desired knowledge and specificity
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Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
- Chatterji, M. (2003). Designing and Using Tools for Educational Assessment.
Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
- Gronlund, N. E. (2003). Assessment of Student Achievement (7thEdition).
Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
- Johnson, D. W. & Johnson, R. T. (2002). Meaningful Assessment: A Manageable
and Cooperative Process. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
- McKeachie, W. J. (1999). Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory
for College and University Teachers (10thEdition). Boston, MA:
Houghton Mifflin Company.
- Popham, W. J. (2000). Modern Educational Measurement: Practical Guidelines
for Educational Leaders (3rdEdition). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
- Trice, A. D. (2000). A Handbook of Classroom Assessment. New York: Addison
Wesley Longman, Inc.
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