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A Guide to Writing
in the Biological Sciences
Short Answers for Tests (and Homework Questions)
This section of the writing guide is intended to give you a set of tips (that you probably already use) to approach short-answer questions on tests or homework assignments.
The main point to keep in mind is to read the question carefully. You must first understand the question to identify what information is required to answer it.
Questions can be straightforward, asking you to recall information and state it simply. Other questions may require that you interpret data or a figure or draw conclusions from a few statements.
Some questions have multiple parts; make sure that you address every aspect of the question.
Be careful not to read too much into a question. If you try to include too much information, you could get confused and write something that is incorrect. It could also seem as though you do not really understand the question or the information.
Plan your answer before you start. Even if it is not a long essay question, think for a moment about how you want to organize your thoughts. Make notes in the margin to put your points in order.
It is important to focus on using succinct, simple sentences that convey one or two ideas.
Start with general statements that answer the question as directly as possible. Provide appropriate examples to support those statements to show you understand the material. Use examples from class, instead of making up untested examples on the spot.
When you are studying, anticipate some likely short answer or essay questions. By preparing for potential questions, you will be studying the material at a higher level. This will help you understand relationships between the concepts you are learning and help you synthesize the information better, even if the exact questions you envisioned do not appear on the exam.
The Writing Center has a tutorial on taking essay exams.
Learning Services offers free Academic
Skills Workshops on exam strategies and study skills.
|An introduction to writing in Biology|
|Practical tips for scientific writing|
|Professors' perspectives on student writing|
|Specific Information for Writing Assignments|
|Short answers for tests|
|Summary of a scientific article|
|The poster session|
|Writing a scientific paper|
|General Ecology||The Writing Center|