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Hints That Can Help You Succeed on a Short Answers Test

Teachers and instructors often consider a short answers test to be an effective way to measure the student's grasp of the course material. Here are several important steps that you should take if you want to nail short answers questions. 

Test Prep Tips

Writing short answer essay exams is much easier if you take the preparation process seriously. Begin by summarizing all of the class material in a notebook or as a Word document. Make sure to commit important vocabulary terms to memory and devote a lot of your study time to reviewing important concepts or events, as they are bond to show up on the test. Bottom line: The best way to review the material is by keeping it organized and categorized.

Test-Taking Tips

Figuring out how to write short answer questions does not have to be complicated. Just make sure to provide a direct answer to the question and always read each question carefully. The questions themselves may contain certain words that indicate what the instructor or professor wants.

Here are some short answer test questions examples:

  • Outline… (Highlight the key ideas in the form of an essay)
  • Give a description… (Provide as much detailed information about the concept or subject as possible)
  • Provide analysis… (Break the question down and discuss each point thoroughly)
  • Provide an evaluation… (This usually indicates that you will be offering an opinion and justifying it)
  • Provide an illustration… (Explain your argument using clear examples)
  • Provide a summary… (Discuss the material in a concise way, focusing on main ideas)
  • Provide evidence… (Support your arguments with facts)
  • Provide a definition… (Give a brief and exact meaning of the words)
  • Compare/Contrast (Discuss how concepts are similar and/or differ)


Keep it concise and focused. Your instructor might provide guidelines in terms of word count, but if not, the general rule is that it should be around 300 words. Beyond meeting word requirements, you might be expected to list a defined number of key ideas, events or facts and then go into more detail about them. If you fail to include the required amount or even exceed it, you could be docked points.

Avoid straying from the question and including unrelated information. It only wastes valuable time and does nothing to demonstrate your ability to understand the material. It is also important that you not repeat yourself. Even if feels good, remember that the goal is not to merely full up the sheet with words. Ultimately, connecting key ideas is an effective foundation for developing the right answers.

Organization is key. Instructors will typically ask you to break the question into two paragraphs, especially if you are focusing on one study or concept. The first paragraph serves as an introduction to what you will discuss and the second will provide more detail about your knowledge of the study or topic. If you are discussing two studies, you will likely be asked to include a third paragraph based on that second study. It is extremely unlikely that you will be asked to include a conclusion paragraph, although it would not hurt to add a closing sentence at the end of the question.

If a question is not entirely clear, do not hesitate to go up to the teacher or instructor. They know how to help students with short answer questions. Obviously will not give you the answer, but they can eliminate any misunderstandings about the question.

If a question appears difficult or you know, it will take longer to answer, skip over it for the time being and focus on the questions you have more knowledge about. This way you will be able to use your time most efficiently.

If time permits, once you complete the test proofread your answers to check for spelling or grammar mistakes before turning it in.

Finally, never leave a question blank, as it guarantees zero points. Even if you have no clue, use intuition and write something down. You might just end up picking up a few crucial points.

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