Reassessing Assessment: Very Short Answers Questions for Assessment

Chelsea Bullock
2 min readDec 2, 2020

In recent times, as teachers we’ve been creating assessments mainly with multiple choice questions -or single-best-answers (SBA). However, SBA questions can give a false impression of students’ competence while Very Short Answers (VSAs) questions have greater authenticity and can provide useful information regarding students’ cognitive errors, helping to improve learning as well as assessment.

Reassessing Assessment using Very-Short-Answer questions

MCQ questions are vastly used in Higher Education. They are very popular with lecturers for various reasons, but primarily because they can be used to assess a ton of topics with high reliability and are a very practical question format as they are automatically marked by computers. As they provide a definitive correct answer, the answer is not subject to interpretation.

However, recent research on single-best answers like MCQs have debate their validity for assessment -calling them in some cases ”inherently flawed” for certain educational contexts.

Additionally, MCQ question types provide a set of “fixed” answers, in which one of them is the single best choice. The provided answers give narrow the students’ attention to just those options and, of course, offering as signification cueing.

In contrast, VSAs have a description followed by a lead-in question but no “possible answers”. Instead of having to select one of the possible answers like in the MCQs, the students are prompted to provide their own answer.

VSAs are designed so that the answer required is one to five words in length. The possible answers from the students can be pre-programmed correct and incorrect answers allow the VSA responses of most candidates to be marked automatically. Any responses not fitting the pre-programmed answers are then reviewed by the lecture who examine the answer and might accept it as correct.

A thorough comparison between MCQs as single best answers and VSAs have been published by Prof. Amir H. Sam and colleagues which includes the study of 1417 students in 20 UK medical schools in UK.

In 2019, LAMS participated in a research project with academics from the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (Singapore) and Imperial College London Medical School to ascertain that VSAs can be use in the context of Team-Based Learning (TBL) effectively.

A study with 200+ students in Dec 2019 was conducted using VSAs in the context of TBL using LAMS.

While the results of the study are being published, the use of VSAs in Team-Based Learning has been effective and the feedback from the students is very positive.

Currently, both Medical schools (LKC -Singapore and Imperial -UK) are deploy online TBL lessons utilising VSAs questions.



Chelsea Bullock

I’m a Communication Manager and Outreach Officer at LAMS (Learning Designer App).