B. Essay Questions (Short and Extended Response)
Essay questions are a more complex version of constructed response assessments. With essay questions, there is one general question or proposition, and the student is asked to respond in writing. This type of assessment is very powerful -- it allows the students to express themselves and demonstrate their reasoning related to a topic. Essay questions often demand the use of higher level thinking skills, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
Essay questions may appear to be easier to write than multiple choice and other question types, but writing effective essay questions requires a great deal of thought and planning. If an essay question is vague, it will be much more difficult for the students to answer and much more difficult for the instructor to score. Well-written essay questions have the following features:
Essay questions are used both as formative assessments (in classrooms) and summative assessments (on standardized tests). There are 2 major categories of essay questions -- short response (also referred to as restricted or brief ) and extended response.
Short response questions are more focused and constrained than extended response questions. For example, a short response might ask a student to "write an example," "list three reasons," or "compare and contrast two techniques." The short response items on the Florida assessment (FCAT) are designed to take about 5 minutes to complete and the student is allowed up to 8 lines for each answer. The short responses are scored using a 2-point scoring rubric. A complete and correct answer is worth 2 points. A partial answer is worth 1 point.
Sample Short Response Question
How are the scrub jay and the mockingbird different? Support your answer with details and information from the article.
Extended responses can be much longer and complex then short responses, but students should be encouraged to remain focused and organized. On the FCAT, students have 14 lines for each answer to an extended response item, and they are advised to allow approximately 10-15 minutes to complete each item. The FCAT extended responses are scored using a 4-point scoring rubric. A complete and correct answer is worth 4 points. A partial answer is worth 1, 2, or 3 points.
Sample Extended Response Question
Robert is designing a demonstration to display at his school’s science fair. He will show how changing the position of a fulcrum on a lever changes the amount of force needed to lift an object. To do this, Robert will use a piece of wood for a lever and a block of wood to act as a fulcrum. He plans to move the fulcrum to different places on the lever to see how its placement affects the force needed to lift an object.
Part A Identify at least two other actions that would make Robert’s demonstration better.
Part B Explain why each action would improve the demonstration.
Extended-response or essay questions take care and thought, but they are nothing to fear. In fact, the more you show what you know about a topic, the more credit you are likely to receive on a test.
How To Do ItGood extended-response answers have three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an ending.
The first paragraph introduces your main idea or position. It begins with a topic sentence. The topic sentence states plainly the point you intend to make in your answer. Often it simply restates the question.
The second paragraph provides information, examples, and details to support your main idea or position. This is where you show in detail what you know or think about the topic. If the answer calls for a great deal of information, you may need more than one paragraph.
The final paragraph sums up your main idea or position. It restates your topic sentence, this time with more feeling.
Now You Try
Work through these steps as you answer the question below. Write your answer on a separate piece of paper.
Step 1 Read the question carefully. Take a moment to think about it. What exactly is it asking? Are you being asked to argue a position or to show what you know about a subject? Be sure you know what you are being asked to do before you begin writing.
Many cities around the world are located near large rivers and lakes, or near an ocean. Why do you think this is so? Provide three or more important advantages that waterways offer cities, and explain why each advantage is important. Give examples.
Step 2 Decide on your main idea or position. You might simply want to restate the question. Write it down. This will be your topic sentence. Then add any extra information that will help explain your topic. That's your first paragraph.
Step 3 Now think. How can you fully explain your idea or position? What details and examples support your main idea? Choose the most convincing details and examples. Write them in separate sentences. Try to write the most important information first.
Step 4 Take a moment to review what you've written. Does it fully answer the question? Do you need to add any more information? Add what you need to and then move on. (Don't worry too much about grammar or spelling. Your answer will be graded on content rather than style. However, do be sure that your writing is neat!)
Step 5 You can breathe easily now: your final paragraph will be a snap! Write a sentence that summarizes your main point or position. The sentence should restate your topic sentence. This time, however, give it some zest. Then add any information that emphasizes what you've written. That's your final paragraph. You're done!
Review and Reflect
Peer review -- having another student comment on your written response or essay -- can be a good way to help you reflect on your work.
Trade your answer with another student. Read the other student's paper carefully. On the back, write your comments.
- Did the student fully answer the question?
- Is there a beginning, a middle, and an ending?
- Could more information be added?