Exam Questions Explained - The Different Types

It is quite usual for exams to be made up of a mixture of different types of knowledge tests and questions. Before you begin studying, find out what question types you are likely to get. Look through your course notes and materials for clues. If you are still in doubt, check with your tutor or lecturer.   

The following are some tips for preparing and answering the most popular question types.

Questions of the Computational/Problem Variety

Generally, questions of this type require you to use calculations for problem solving.

Things to focus on when preparing for computational/problem type test questions:

  • Understand all related formulas, theories and terminology and know when and how to apply these.
  • Try to find sample questions in your textbooks, course material, previous test papers, and so on, to use for practice.
  • Practice writing full model answers as though you were in a real exam situation.

Things to watch out for when completing computation/problem style questions:

  • Start by reading exam instructions and questions carefully so that you know precisely what is being asked. 
  • Once you know what to do, jot down any applicable methods or formulas you intend to use.
  • Demonstrate your approach and/or how you are attempting to work things out. Showing you know a process can earn you marks even when your answers are incorrect. 
  • Diagrams and drawings should be sketched in pencil so that they are easy to change. You can draw over these in pen later.
  • All diagrams and drawings should be labelled and marked with headings.

Essay-Style Questions (these usually involve lengthy answers)

Questions of the essay-style variety require structured answers in a manner similar to the way one would write an essay or a report. Answers can range in length from a couple of paragraphs to several pages. Reference lists are not required but sources should be cited. It is often possible to determine the required length by the allocation of marks.

Things to focus on when preparing for essay-type test questions:  

  • Look at revision-style questions, previous exam questions, or corrected papers in your textbooks and/or course materials to try to find questions you are likely to be asked. However, you should check that the exam format or content has not changed.
  • Try writing some model for example answers.
  • Try completing a few test questions as though you were competing in a real exam environment i.e. plan and write your answers in a set time.

What to watch out for when completing essay-style questions:

  • Read and analyse the question carefully to ensure you understand its meaning.
  • Do some brainstorming or use a mind-map to generate ideas and create an ‘answer’ plan.
  • Jot down a few keywords and/or phrases. If, for instance, there are five key points to an answer, make a note of them with a few keywords for each one. 
  • Begin writing your answer by rephrasing the essay question in brief and in your own choice of words. 
  • Give each main point or idea its own new paragraph. Support each idea with reasoning, examples, results and/or other supporting material.
  • Leave some blank lines between paragraphs so that you can provide more detail later.

When completing essay-style questions it is crucial to stay within the time limit. Delaying on any one question can mean leaving no time to answer other questions. If time runs out, make a note of any keywords or ideas that occur to you. This will show the examiner what direction you were taking and it might earn you a few extra marks.  

Allow reasonable-size margins for the examiner and make sure your writing is neat. Proofread your answers as you progress.

 

Multi-Choice Type Questions

Questions of the multiple-choice variety are made up of questions or the first part of sentences (referred to as stems), and a choice of answers (often three to five possibilities). Your task is to select the correct answer option.  Usually, you can determine how much time to spend on each question by the number of allocated marks.

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

  • Facts
  • People and place names
  • Special terminology
  • Any examples, theories or concepts related to these
  • Differences and similarities.

What to watch out for when completing multi-choice questions:

  • Read all questions and answers quickly before writing any answers.
  • Answer those questions you are confident about first.
  • Highlight any questions you are not sure about. If time permits, return to them later.
  • Attempt to answer all other questions. Eliminate any answers that are clearly incorrect.
  • Be vigilant about negatives, e.g., “which of the following does not …?”
  • Do not alter first answers unless you are confident. First instincts are often right. 
  • Adhere to the time allowed. If time runs out and you are still undecided, guess the answer or do not answer it.

It is best to answer all questions even if your answers are guesswork. You guess may be correct. Sometimes, however, marks may be deducted for incorrect answers so be sure you understand the exam instructions.

Questions of the Short Answer Variety

As the name suggests, short answers are required for questions in this category. For example, answers can comprise of anything from just a few words to one or two paragraphs. The allocated marking is often an indication of the expected answer length.   

Things to focus on when preparing for short answer test questions:

  • Facts
  • People and place names

Special terminology

  • Any examples, theories or concepts related to these
  • Differences and similarities.

What to watch out for when completing short answer questions:

  • Plan answers prior to writing them.
  • Answers should be kept short. The question does not have to be rewritten and you need not provide any information over and above what is required. Doing so might leave you short of time and you will not earn any additional marks.  
  • Highlight those questions you are not sure about. If time permits, revisit them later.  
  • Do your best to complete all questions.