Short and Long Answer Exams
Short answer exams
Just as the name suggests, this type of exam consists of a series of questions that only require concise answers, usually in the form of a definition. For example:
- What is ascorbic acid? (The answer might be worth 1-5 marks and involve 1-3 lines).
Long answer exams
Similar to a short answer exam, but requires more detail about the topic. You still need to learn key definitions, but must also read further to be able to expand on the topic. This may require the provision of further associated facts, examples or applications. For example:
- Define ascorbic acid and describe its function in the human body.
- You may be provided with a word length limit or a limited amount of space - usually half a page to a page in length. Pay attention to these limits.
Type of learning required
- Rote learning of key definitions is essential (see Handy Hint). You must also understand the underlying basis for these definitions.
Study strategies for short answer exams
What to do
- When studying, make a list of key terms in your subject area, and write definitions of each in your own words, while referring back to definitions given in class or in discipline dictionaries or text books. Then learn those definitions off by heart. Test your memory by writing those definitions out under exam conditions.
What NOT to do
- Don't try to learn so many definitions that you can't remember any! Pick out the key ones instead (past exam papers might give you a clue). Don't write more than you need to. If there are only three lines available, that's all your examiners want you to write. Don't squish your writing up or scribble in the margins. This is annoying to markers, and takes your time away from other questions.
During the exam
- As soon as you are allowed to, make notes on scrap paper, jotting down key words for short answer questions. Do as many as you can while things are still fresh in you memory. You can write them into sentences during the exam. Alternatively, if allowed, you can write your answers in point form (check with your lecturer prior to the exam). It is easier to cram more information in if you don't have to worry about sentence structure.
If you get stuck
- Just write a couple of key facts or concepts that might get you a couple of marks.