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Short answer questions

Some assignments have questions that are broken down into parts that each require a brief answer. These are called short answer questions.

Short answer questions require concise answers so it is essential to read the question carefully and to take account of the process words. It is all too easy to go off track and overshoot word limits by including irrelevant information.

Sample questions

Look at the following examples, adapted from SK277, Human Biology.

Define insoluble dietary fibre in one or two sentences. (2 marks)

Explain why insoluble dietary fibre is important in the human diet. (4 marks)


  • Insoluble dietary fibre consists of indigestible carbohydrates, mostly cellulose, which is a large structural carbohydrate that supports plant cell walls. Cellulose is a polysaccharide that consists of many glucose molecules strung together as long strands linked to each other, forming long insoluble and indigestible fibres.
  • Insoluble fibre helps to bulk up food and speed up transit times as it passes through the gut, and helps to prevent diverticular disease. By minimising transit times, fibre restricts contact time between any toxic substances in food (which might trigger cancer) and the cells lining the gut. Diets high in fibre are likely to be healthy, being generally low in fat and non-milk extrinsic sugars and high in vitamins and minerals.

The answer addresses the required factual content in the context established by the process words and to the length required. Dietary fibre is defined, and its role in the human diet is explained. Scientific terms such as 'carbohydrate', 'polysaccharide', 'glucose' and 'diverticular' are used appropriately and spelt correctly.

Example assignments

The examples below are from the discontinued 'Openings' programme of modules which are designed as introductions to studying at university level. These example assignments will show you how the students answered in the given word limit. The students are asked to reflect on their learning - this is a common short answer question in the assignments of Access and Level 1modules.