Requiring written answers is often the best way to assess students’ understanding of a concept. However, there are strengths and limitations to short answer and essay questions, which we’ll examine in this lesson.
The Basics of Test Taking
We’ve probably all felt that sensation of dread in the pit in our stomach. After 20 or so multiple-choice or true/false questions that we are feeling pretty good about, we turn to the last page of our test, and it’s the dreaded essay question!Whether you are the student taking the test or the instructor writing the test, there are some important things to understand about short-answer and essay questions.
Short-answer and essay questions are based on a predetermined rubric developed by the instructor that require the test taker to write their answer in complete sentences.In the mid-1900s, an educator named Benjamin Bloom developed what is now called Bloom’s Taxonomy. Basically, Bloom identified different types of learning, and since then, other educators have realized that many of his types of learning are most effectively assessed using different types of questions.
His types of learning included classifications like knowing, comprehending, applying, analyzing, and evaluation.Bloom’s first classifications, like ‘knowing,’ are best tested with multiple choice questions that simply test the retention of facts. But, we’re headed for the heavy testing – the ‘analyzing’ and ‘evaluation’ classifications that require some explanation from the student to demonstrate their understanding.
Short Answer ; Essay Questions
Short answer and essay questions certainly have their strengths. Most of all, students can’t guess the right answer when they have to explain their answer. Writing out an answer also solidifies the learning of a concept. Reading about something or hearing about it and even discussing it can help students retain and understand information, but having to process that information in a way that then requires them to articulate it in writing gives them another chance to think through it and explain, in their own words, what they’ve learned.Short answer and essay questions also have another important benefit: they can serve as a feedback mechanism for the instructor. This can be true of all test questions, but short answer and essay questions can provide the instructor with insight into possible misunderstandings students’ have of the material.
This helps the instructor improve the material for future lessons. Another benefit for the student and the instructor is that, unlike multiple-choice questions, a student can receive partial credit since the answer isn’t as simple as a strict, predefined choice.The instructor can also learn from the students. Ask any teacher that’s written and graded short-answer or essay questions, and they will tell you at some point, they read something that gave them ideas on how to improve their teaching of the material.
Limitations of Short Answers and Essays
While short answer and essay questions are a very effective means of assessment, they do present challenges. First of all, they take a lot of time for both the student and the instructor. The instructor has to write the question and then they have to grade all the answers.
That takes time, and it can be difficult. Second, writing itself is a skill that some students do very well and others struggle with.The purpose of most tests is to assess the understanding of a specific concept – not to assess a student’s writing ability. But, it’s very easy to mistake eloquent, quality writing for a good answer, even if it doesn’t really answer the question. So, it’s critical that when instructors write short answer and essay questions, they include a rubric of what they are really trying to determine about the students’ understanding, and even answer the question themselves so they know what a ‘right’ answer might look like.
Finally, one of the limitations of short answer and essay questions is being able to grade answers fairly and objectively. On a multiple choice question, the grader knows the right answer and it’s simply a matter of the student’s answer matching the right answer. But, the line between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ can be fuzzy when it comes to short answer and essay questions. A good question needs to be very clear, and the instructor needs to think, in advance, of what answers might be partially correct. It’s certainly not as easy to define as one might think!
Short answer and essay questions are very important assessment tools for instructors. They can effectively solidify a concept in students’ minds, while at the same time providing important feedback for instructors.But, there are also challenges with short answer and essay questions.
They take a lot of time, for instructors and students, and they can be difficult to grade fairly and consistently. It can also be difficult to separate a student’s writing ability from their understanding of the material.While there are strengths and limitations of short answer and essay questions, these assessment tools play an important part of an overall evaluation of student learning outcomes. They can’t be the only tool used, but they are certainly one that provides insight on students’ abilities to analyze and evaluate key concepts.