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National College of Ireland


Exams guide: Short Answer Questions

Preparation and Planning

Man surrounded by question marks


Like any exam, it is important to know the structure of a short answer paper. You may have a long paper in which you have to answer all of the questions, or you may be asked to select a number of questions from different sections. In either case, you need to be familiar with how many marks may be attached to the questions and sections in the exam and plan accordingly. One of the best ways to prepare for an exam with short answer questions is practice.

Check out our guide on past papers to help you with this

Make sure you allocate your time according to the proportion of marks for each question, i.e. a question that gives you more marks should be given more time than a question with less marks. Plan your answer by jotting down a few keywords to give you a basic framework before you start writing and ensure you don’t forget something.

If you do not have a choice of questions, there is no need to read through the whole paper before you begin. Check what time you have for each question and begin first by answering the questions you are sure of; after that, you can go back to the start and answer the remaining questions.

Answering Short Answer Questions

Man sitting on question mark

Don’t rush into short answer questions – the temptation is to look at a keyword and write everything you know; instead, analyse the instructions carefully and make sure you are actually answering the question.

For short answer questions, it is important not to make incorrect assumptions about what they are asking for. Analyse and carefully read the question, highlighting/underlining any keywords that will help you understand what’s required. Make sure you answer all of the question; short answer questions often have different parts and are asking you to do more than one thing.

For mathematical/problem solving questions, make sure that you clearly show your workings and calculations – you make get marks for this even if the final answer is incorrect.