Question practice: short-answer questions
Revision and exam skills
With this type of question, very specific brief answers are generally required, with a need for elaboration (detail) to gain any additional marks available.
Short-answer questions can require description-only type answers (AO1) (such as questions 1 and 3 below) or evaluation-only type answers (AO3) (such as questions 2 and 4 below).
1 Outline the deviation from social norms definition of abnormality.
2 Explain one strength of the deviation from social norms definition of abnormality.
3 Outline one explanation for success in dieting.
4 Explain one limitation of the genetic explanation for obesity.
Strategies for improvement
Identify the command word(s) before attempting the question (as with selection questions).
Use the marks in brackets as a guide as to how much to write. In an exam you would have about 1 minute 15 seconds per mark available, so a 2-mark short-answer question should take you about 2 minutes 30 seconds to answer, while a 3-mark question should take about 3 minutes 45 seconds. As the average student writes about 20 words a minute, that works out at 50 words for a 2-mark question and 75 words for a 3-mark question.
Use the partial mark technique. This can be used for short-answer questions worth up to 3 marks, as such questions are assessed by examiners referring to mark descriptors, which guide examiners as to what an answer should contain to earn different amounts of marks.
If, for example, a question is worth 3 marks, create an answer worth 1 mark and then add sufficient elaboration (detail) to earn 2 marks and then again to create an answer worth 3 marks. So for the question ’Outline one explanation for failure in dieting [3 marks]’, first produce an answer worth 1 mark, such as, ’One explanation for failure in dieting is creating an unsustainable form of dieting.’ Then give sufficient elaboration to gain the second available mark, such as adding ’such as by restricting themselves to far too few calories a day so that the diet cannot be sustained.’ Finally, give further elaboration to gain access to the third mark available, such as then adding ’An extremely low-calorie diet brings unpleasant side-effects, such as dizziness and stress, which leads to loss of motivation and abandonment of the diet.’ Create examples for all topics on the specification. You could even match up with another student and answer and mark each other’s efforts.
Practise short-answer questions regularly under exam-type conditions.
Not addressing the requirements of the question, for example outlining a definition of abnormality when the question asks for a strength or limitation
Giving an accurate, relevant answer but not providing any/enough elaboration
Writing too much — reducing time available for other questions and gaining no extra marks
The definition sees abnormality as behaviour that violates social rules, such as by being naked in public.
One strength of the definition would be that it helps protect society.
Success in dieting can occur through creating incentives for weight loss. Positive reinforcements could be used to reward meeting weight-loss targets.
One limitation of the genetic explanation for obesity is that genes cannot explain the recent upsurge in obesity levels. Genes haven’t changed, but environmental factors, like the availability of food, have, which suggests environment plays a larger role.
Answer 1: 2/3 marks. 1 mark is earned for stating that the definition sees abnormality as behaviour violating social rules, with the example sufficient to earn an additional mark. Additional elaboration would be needed to gain the third mark, such as by explaining that ’social norms are unwritten rules for acceptable behaviour’.
Answer 2: 1/2 marks. A relevant strength is identified, so a mark is gained, but there is no elaboration to show understanding of the point made, such as that the definition helps protect society by allowing the state to intervene in abnormal people’s lives.
Answer 3: 2/3 marks. 1 mark is earned for presenting an accurate and relevant answer, involving the use of incentives for weight loss, with an additional mark earned for elaboration concerning the use of positive reinforcements for meeting weight-loss targets. Additional elaboration would be needed to gain the third mark, such as by providing a relevant example of a positive reinforcement, e.g. the purchasing of new clothes to fit their new body shape, to show an understanding of how such positive reinforcements work.
Answer 4: 2/2 marks. 1 mark is earned for presenting an accurate and relevant answer, involving the recent upsurge in obesity levels, with an additional mark earned for the elaboration concerning the contribution of environmental factors.
Answers 1 and 3: 1 mark would be earned for a relevant point, with up to 2 further marks for sufficient elaboration (detail).
Answers 2 and 4: 1 mark would be earned for a relevant point, with an additional mark for sufficient elaboration.