The best way you can prepare for answering short answer questions in exams is to practise. But what does this actually mean? Like I said in our ‘Preparing for an in-class essay’ post, just as everyone prepares for essays differently, everyone has a different method for preparing for short answers so I am going to go through what I think the best method is, from how early on you should start to how you know what to include, and everything in between.
So here are my top 5 tips for preparing short answer responses:
1. Change your mindset - they are important!
A lot of people have formed the view that short answer responses are not important and that extended responses deserve more attention and planning than a short answer…
Yes, the extended response may be worth more marks individually, but add up all those short answer questions up and they can make up as many marks as an extended response in an exam. So, therefore, you need to be placing just as much importance on them. Don’t get me wrong, preparing for short answers may not require as much critical thinking, but they do require some planning.
Perfecting your short answers is a lot easier than trying to perfect an essay, which means it’s going to be much easier for you to get full marks in a short answer question and that is going to be one of the keys to pushing your assessment marks into the higher bands because, at the end of the day, every mark counts. The short answer section is usually what you’ll do first in an exam so if you can secure yourself some marks early on then you are going to not only set yourself up for those higher bands, but you’re also going to gain some confidence and momentum for the rest of the paper and will hopefully be more likely to perform better.
2. Start early
I can see a bit of a theme forming in all my blog posts lately… starting early!
Your final exams will approach quicker than you think they will so it’s time to get into the habit of starting early. Start caring early, start studying early, start memorising early, start practising early… just start early. The more time you have to prepare, the more time you’ll have to iron out any kinks and be better prepared for all your assessments throughout the entire year.
So, even though these are ‘only short answers’ as I hear you all say to yourself, the importance of starting early is just as high as any other piece of work. With this being said, 3 weeks is always my lucky number. I recommend starting to prepare 3-4 weeks out from when you have to sit your short answer assessment.
Why, I hear you ask?
3-4 weeks is the perfect amount of time to work on your short answers, hand them in to your teacher for marking, get them back, work on implementing the feedback with time left over for practising and memorising.
The way I see it is that you need one whole week to actually figure out what you’re going to say and create a bit of a plan, then you need to allow a week for back and forth with your teacher (more on this in a second) and another week and a half for practice questions/papers and a couple of days for memorising before the assessment (if it’s an in-class and not a hand-in).
Do you need to hand practice short answer responses in to get marked?
Yes. Always yes.
Why wouldn’t you?
The point of studying is to try and be as prepared as you can for the real thing so why not have the person who is going to be marking a good chunk of your assessment marks this year have a look at your work and tell you what areas you should be working on before the real thing. Your teachers will show you exactly how to format and structure your responses in a way that encourages you to be able to achieve higher marks. We also show you how to construct short answer responses in our videos, which you can check out here. Highly recommend doing this!
3. Actually writing a short answer response
You’ve now planned out when you’re going to start studying but now what… 🤔
It’s time to go through how to actually formulate the perfect response and this is where it’s going to get very intense (but very real) so pay attention.
The first tip I want to give you is before you start writing, look at the mark allocation. This is super important as it will dictate:
- How much to write;
- What to include;
- How to structure your response.
Let’s have a look at the different mark allocations for short answer questions and how you would prepare for each one:
Generally, when we refer to short answer responses, our biggest tip is to use the n + 1 rule. This will be your bible for short answers worth between 2-4 marks this year. Essentially this little equation works out the number of sentences you need to be writing for each question with n being the number of marks the question is worth.
For example, if a question is worth 3 marks, you’d be expected to write about 3 + 1 sentences (which is 4 for those who just reached for their phone calculator...).
This allows you to include an opening statement, technique and then some analysis and this should be your basic structure for your sentences. The sentence should start with what concept from the question you are addressing, you will then give the technique that has been used to convey that concept and after that is where your analysis of this technique based on the ‘Key Term’ that has been used at the beginning of the question come into play. For the questions that are around the 2 mark range, you’re looking at having 1-2 techniques with analysis that’s succinct and to the point. But for the 3-4 markers, you want to have a few more techniques (around 4) and your analysis should go into a bit more depth to create what starts to look like a paragraph.
These questions require a little more depth and they should look like mini-essays that are super precise and structured. This means you need to be structuring your responses like this:
- Introduction - Include a one-sentence thesis and introduce what texts or material you’ll be referring to in your answer. Total of around 2 sentences;
- Body paragraph 1 - Including a topic sentence and two techniques plus an analysis or explanation of the effect of these techniques;
- Body paragraph 2 - Repeat the structure of body paragraph 1;
- Conclusion - This should be brief, keep it to one sentence summarising and answering the question.
These tips will allow you to make sure your responses are directly answering the question, without all the rambling and unnecessary information that you might not be sure whether to include or not.
It’s now time to take those tips and strategies and turn them into reality. It’s quite easy to get your hands on sample short answer questions but if you can’t I can assure you your teacher will have some handy. So grab as many as you can, try answering them and marking them along the marking criteria. Get used to using the structures I gave you above and get used to trying to figure out what information is important to include and what isn't. The easiest way to do this is practise, I can’t give you a cheat sheet on that, unfortunately. But after doing about 15 practise questions and looking at the marking criteria you start to get a really good understanding of what the markers are looking for.
5. The syllabus
Now I may have just mentioned that I don’t have a cheat sheet telling you exactly what to include in your short answers, but luckily there is a cheat sheet out there that you can all get your hands on. The Syllabus. Short answer questions are amazing because they have been taken directly out of the syllabus, almost word for word. The way you know what to include in your answer will also be taken from the syllabus. Follow this. It is your guide. In subjects like Business or History, the number of marks can also indicate how many sub syllabus dot points that short answer wants you to include. So make sure you are using the syllabus as your directory.
What have we learnt?
So what did you get out of this blog post? Well, you should’ve realised that short answers are important! That’s a crucial point. The key is to make sure you’ve discovered this at least 3 weeks before your assessment. That way you have enough time to properly prepare and practise before the real assessment.
Good luck team - you can do it!