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Top 4 tips for short answer questions

By Danielle Barakat on 15 October 2018NSWblogHSCExam adviceStudy tips

Whilst studying for the HSC exams, we find that a lot of people spend a lot of time practising answering extended response questions. Over and over you will practice writing out your Discovery essay or your Religion and Peace essay, forgetting that there are actually other types of questions in exams.

What about the short answer questions?

These are often overlooked by people thinking that they are easy to make up on the day but what a lot of people don’t realise is that having a strategy for answering short answer questions is going to save you a lot of time and get you a whole lot more marks in your exams.

Here are our top 4 tips to prepare for short answer questions:

#1 Take note of the keyword in the question

We’ve all heard it time and time again. Your answer isn’t an answer unless it directly fits the criteria of the keyword at the beginning of the question that tells you exactly what content to include in your answer. So here, I am talking about words like identify, how, why, describe or demonstrate. In any question, these keywords are super important for writing a response that directly answers the question without allowing for vague or rambly responses.

You can read up on exactly what each of these keywords means on the NESA website, as well as learn exactly how to use them in our blog post ‘Using the keyword in the question to get better marks.’

#2 Don’t overwrite

Yes, there is such a thing called overwriting. The thing about short answer questions is that it’s really easy to get caught up in an answer that ends up being a lot longer and filled with a lot more irrelevant information than necessary. Short answer questions require short answers… a shocker, I know! Your marker is looking for very specific points in your answer and it’s a huge waste of time to add extra information that wasn’t asked for. So keep your answers concise and to the point. Hit all the syllabus points you need to, give examples where necessary and you should be on the path to full marks.

A handy hint is to look at how many lines they’ve given you to answer the question. This gives you a good guide on how much to write.

#3 Look at how many marks the question is worth

Following on from my last point, it’s really easy to add extra irrelevant information to a short answer response. So the best way to avoid doing this is to actually look at how many marks have been allocated to each question. This gives you a great idea of how much you need to write in order to get all the marks for that question. So for example, if a question is worth 3 marks, you would assume that they are looking for 3 different points, or 2 points and an example. I would have a look at a past paper and compare it to it’s marking criteria to really gain a good understanding of the breakdown and allocation of marks.

#4 Structure

If you’re one of those people who just know they love to ramble or go off on a tangent in your responses, then this is the perfect time to construct a strong structure and stick to it. You know the markers are looking for really concise, specific information and the best thing you can do is set these answers out in a logical manner, with all your points clear and obvious. The structure is going to depend on how many marks the question is worth, but here’s an example. If you have a 4 marker, you could follow something like this:

  • Introductory sentence
  • Point one
  • Point two
  • Example
  • Point three
  • Linking sentence to form a conclusion


Are you a bit overwhelmed by what I am talking about?

Here is an example of a little Studies of Religion lesson that explains how you might tackle a short answer question using this solid structure.

Check out the full video on the application of New Religious Expressions if you're keen.


Prep for your short answers because they are a great way to gain some easy marks. All you have to do is make sure your answers are well structured, logical and only refer to the content and syllabus dot points that will specifically answer that question. As long as you know your content this will be easy.

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