Wonderful Guide to Exam Questions: Get to Know the Different Types

types of exam and test questions


by Susan

20 March 2018

Most examinations include a variety of questions. It is important to understand the types of questions you may find in a test before you begin studying for it. You are likely to find this information in your program materials or on your course webpage so check these. In the event this information is still not clear, check with your tutor or lecturer.
Although a lot of tests expect you to provide essay-type answers, there are other genres of questions e.g. computational-style questions, multiple-choice test questions, short-answer questions, and several other types.
This guide describes some of the most common types of questions along with tips for preparing for and answering these question types.

Computational-Style Test Questions (This Part of our Guide is for Teachers/Test Writers)

This type of question requires the test-taker to use calculations to find the answer to a problem question. It is common enough for examiners to use computational-type questions to evaluate how well a student can remember problem-solving techniques. They also use them to evaluate how well the student is able to put those techniques to use to a) solve problems they tried to solve before and b) answer questions that test their ability to combine different problem-solving techniques and use them in innovative ways.

For computational-style questions to be effective, they should:

  • Be capable of being solved using the test-taker’s knowledge of important techniques and concepts from their course. You should attempt to answer them on your own before the test or ask another teacher (or assistant) to try answering the question.
  • Give an indication of the mark allocation to emphasize the levels of knowledge expected of the student from materials and examples used in class.

To ensure your students are prepared to tackle computational-style questions in an exam environment, you need to explain the formula to be used in both the calculations and in their answer(s). Your instruction should include:

  • How the student is to report any assumptions they make and how they should justify these.
  • The degrees and units of accuracy you expect to see in the student’s answer(s)

Recommendation: Advise your students to divide the answer sheets they use into two separate columns with the calculations displayed in one column and the assumptions, process descriptions, and justifications in the second column. This will help the marker tell the difference between a serious conceptual mistake and an elementary mathematical or calculation error. This distinction will enable you to give appropriate feedback or take whatever corrective action is necessary.

Now, you can read about types of exam questions for students/test takers

Long Answer (or Essay) Style Questions

These questions expect the answer you provide to be structured in a manner similar to a report or essay. Your response might only comprise of a few clearly written paragraphs or it could run into a number of pages. There is no need to add a list of references, but any sources you use should definitely be acknowledged. You will generally be able to judge the length of an essay that is required of you by the allocation of marks.

What to focus on when preparing for an essay or long-answer questions:

  • Take a look at some previous examination papers, assignments that tutors have corrected, and/or the revision questions in your textbooks and course materials to try and work out what questions you might be asked. Do remember, though, to find out if the exam format has changed since the material you are looking at was relevant.
  • Do your best to develop possible answers.
  • Getting some practice in before an exam is always a good idea. Try answering a few selected questions in the same timeframe that will be allowed at your real exam. This will involve planning your answer and writing it in the allowed time.

What to be aware of with long-answer or essay-style answers to test questions:

  • Carefully read and analyze your exam question to make sure you fully understand its meaning.
  • Do some brainstorming to generate ideas and start planning your intended answer. You might find a mind map useful for this.
  • Jot down a few keywords. If, for example, there are four main points to your answer, write these down with a couple of keywords attached to each of the points.
  • Begin answering the question by rephrasing it in words of your own choosing.
  • Give each important topic or idea its own paragraph. Support every topic or point with appropriate detail or evidence e.g. reasons, results, or examples.
  • Allow a few blank lines between paragraphs because it may be that you will want to add more information at a later time.

When writing essay-style answers, you really should try and adhere to the time allowed to you. Spending excessive time on one question can leave you short of time for others. In the event you do find yourself short of time, write down any key points or ideas that are relevant to the question so that your examiner can see how your essay was heading. It may be that you even get a couple of marks for this.

Try to keep your writing as neat as you can, proofread along the way, and allow good-size margins for the person who will be marking your work.

Multiple-Choice Test Questions

This type of question is made up of the main question or first part of a sentence (known as the question’s stem) along with a few (usually in the region of three to five) answer options. Your task is to select what you believe to be the correct answer from the options provided. Here again, the allocation of marks should give you an indication of how much time to spend on each of the questions.

What to focus on when preparing for multiple-choice type questions:

  • Names
  • Factual information
  • Likenesses and differences
  • Relevant theories and/or concepts and any examples that underpin these
  • Terminology

What to be aware of when providing answers to multiple-choice test questions:

  • Before beginning, study the instructions you were given carefully.
  • In reading each question, do your best to figure out the answer before looking at the answer options.
  • Working your way through a test with a blank piece of paper or ruler makes it easier to know where the answers go.
  • Address those questions you know the answers to first. Then highlight the questions you are reasonably sure you know the answers to and return to them. Put the most difficult questions off until the end.
  • Do not forget that it is possible to achieve a 100% score for multiple-choice test questions, which is virtually impossible in essay-style exams! So try not to delay on any single question for too long – move to the next and return later to ones you missed if time permits.
  • In the event you get finished early, look back at the questions and your answers to see if you missed anything.

Open Book Test Questions

Questions of the open book variety are exam situations where the test-taker is allowed to consult textbooks and other approved materials during the course of taking an exam. While these exams can cause less stress because there is no need to memorize all sorts of facts and information, it does mean your scores or marks depend on how well you are able to use the information available to you to develop a good argument. Hence, you need to make sure not to just provide lists of citations and quotes.

What to be aware of when providing answers to open-book style test questions:

  • Remember to bring the texts you need with you to the exam since you will be unable to borrow these from anyone else.
  • Avoid the temptation to waste exam time looking through a text for fresh information and/or quotes. These should only be used for brief references and/or to confirm something you know (or think you know) already.
  • Your essays should be planned without referral to the texts you are allowed or you might not be able to resist using an answer you had previously thought of but which is not at all relevant. Do not forget that it is how well you understand a topic that is being evaluated so your answers need to be relevant.
  • Consider each quote before you use them. Be sure they support your point(s) or argument(s) rather than take their place. Note, also, that marks will be given only for arguments you develop yourself and not for words you got from someone else. So there is no point in wasting time on copying lengthy quotes.
  • Include short quotes i.e. those of three to four words long in order for them to fit naturally into your text.
  • In the event you decide to use paraphrasing or direct quotations from one of your texts, do not forget to acknowledge these with a line or page number in the main body text of your response. You should also include the name of the author and the publication year when you first mention the source, in exactly the same way you would in a standard essay. There is, however, no need to include a references list or bibliography.

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Problem or Computational-Style Test Questions

Questions in this category require the test-taker to use calculations to solve problems.

What to focus on when preparing for the problem or computation-style test questions:

  • Make sure you are familiar with the main terms, vocabulary, formulas, and theories, as well as when and how to apply any relevant formulas.
  • Try to find questions you can use for practical purposes in your course notes, course texts, previous test papers, or from any source that might be relevant.
  • When you are practicing, answer the full problem or computational question, and follow all the steps as if you were participating in a real exam.

What to be aware of when answering the problem or computational-style test questions:

  • Carefully read the test question(s) and the instruction(s) prior to beginning so that you fully understand what is expected of you.
  • When you know what is required, jot down any methods or formulas (where applicable) that you intend to use.
  • Show a rough plan of your work. It is possible you will get a few marks for demonstrating your understanding of a problem even if you get the answer wrong or do not complete it.
  • Create any diagrams or drawings that are applicable in pencil so that you can easily change them if you have to. You can go over these with a pen once you are happy with them if you want to.
  • All diagrams and drawings should be labeled and you should give them headings.

Short-Answer Test Questions

The short-answer variety of test question requires just that i.e. that you provide relatively short answers. Your answer can vary from a few well-chosen words to one or two paragraphs. You will often get a clue about the required length from the marks allocated to the question e.g. very few marks suggest a very short answer while high marks suggest a longer answer.

What to focus on when preparing for these types of questions:

  • Names
  • Factual information
  • Likenesses and differences
  • Relevant theories and/or concepts and any examples that underpin these
  • Terminology

What to be aware of when providing answers to short-answer test questions:

  • If all the questions in your test require a short answer with the same marks allocated to every question, split the time allowed to you into equal amounts per question e.g. if you have one hour to answer six questions, allow ten minutes per question. Alternatively, split your time to match the allocation of marks per question.
  • If the questions in your test are a mixture of essay-type answers and short answers, read the instructions scrupulously so that you do not overlook one or more parts of a question.
  • The different parts (or sections) of each question usually indicate the allocation of marks per part. It is best not to waste too much time puzzling over low-mark parts of a question.
  • Look for any part of a question that requires explanations or definitions to support the lengthier, more “meaty” portion of your response. Avoid repeating information that has already been provided in other parts of a question.
  • Where a question requires a “brief comment,” address it in the form of a mini or short essay. Start by introducing the topic in one or two sentences, choose a few ideas or points with one or two sentences of “discussion” on each, and end with closing sentences that summarizes everything.

In the event, you have difficulty knowing how to begin an answer that requires an explanation of something, consider how you would tell another person about that topic.