Types of exam questions

Exams usually include different types of questions. This page includes some study and exam tips for common types of exam questions.

Before you start studying for your exams make sure you know what type of questions to expect. Check your course material. If you're still not sure ask your course leader.


Short answer questions

Short answer questions could mean writing anything between a few words and a paragraph or two. The number of marks allocated often gives an idea of the length needed.

When studying for short-answer questions

Concentrate on:

  • key terms and definitions
  • names
  • facts
  • concepts, theories and examples
  • similarities and differences.

When answering short-answer questions

Remember to:

  • plan your answers before you start writing
  • keep your answers short, focussed on the key points and you don’t need to rewrite the question
  • try to answer all the questions.


Multiple-choice questions

Multiple-choice questions consist of a question, or the first half of the question (the stem), and several possible answers (usually between three and five), for you to choose from.

When studying for multiple-choice questions

Concentrate on:

  • key terms and definitions
  • names
  • facts
  • concepts and theories, and examples underpinning them
  • similarities and differences.

When answering multiple-choice questions

Remember to:

  • read all the questions and their answers before answering
  • mark the questions you aren’t sure of so you can come back to them.
  • answer the questions you’re sure of first
  • then go back over the questions you skipped and eliminate any answers you know are wrong
  • watch out for negatives. For example, ‘Which of these is not…?’
  • stick to your time. If your time's up and you still haven't chosen an answer, guess or move on 
  • don't change your first answer unless you're sure, as your first instinct is often right.

Try to answer all the questions even if you have to guess, as you may be right. Although, check to make sure marks are not deducted for wrong answers. Make sure you read the instructions carefully before you start.

Tip – Multiple-choice questions may have one correct answer or may have two or more correct answers. You can usually spot this from the way the question is worded, so be sure to read carefully.


Essay-type questions (long answers)

  • Answers for essay-type questions should be structured in the same way as an essay or report.
  • The answers could be anything from a few paragraphs to a few pages. The mark allocation will often give an idea of the length needed.
  • You don't need to include a reference list, but you should acknowledge your sources.

When studying for essay questions

Concentrate on:

  • trying to identify possible questions you may be asked by reading past exam papers, corrected assessments and revision-type questions in your course material and textbook(s)
  • practising writing model answers
  • practising writing answers under exam conditions. This means planning and writing your answers within a timeframe.

When answering essay questions

Remember to:

  • read the question carefully so that you understand what it’s asking you to do
  • brainstorm ideas and key words to plan your answer
  • start your answer by briefly rephrasing the question in your own words
  • use a new paragraph for each main idea or topic
  • back up each topic with supporting detail such as examples, reasons and results
  • leave a few lines between each paragraph, as you may want to add more information later
  • leave wide margins for the marker, try to write neatly and proofread as you go.


Problems/computational questions

For these types of questions, you need to solve a problem using calculations.

When studying for problems/computational questions

Concentrate on:

  • learn the key vocabulary, theories and formulas, including how and when to apply the formulas
  • look for practice questions in past exam papers, your course materials or set texts
  • practise answering this type of question, writing each step down, as if it were an exam.

When answering problems/computational questions

Remember to:

  • read the questions and instructions very carefully before you start to ensure you know exactly what's needed.
  • write down the formulas or methods you’re going to use (if applicable).
  • show your workings. Even if your answer is wrong or incomplete you may still get some marks for showing you understand the process.
  • use a pencil for drawings and diagrams in case you need to change anything. If you need to you can go over them with pen once you're happy with your work.
  • label drawings and diagrams and include headings.


Tip – For all question types, mark any questions you aren't sure of and go back to them at the end.