Creating and Scoring Essay Tests

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Essay tests are useful for teachers when they want students to select, organize, analyze, synthesize, and/or evaluate information. In other words, they rely on the upper levels of Bloom's Taxonomy . There are two types of essay questions: restricted and extended response.

  • Restricted Response - These essay questions limit what the student will discuss in the essay based on the wording of the question. For example, "State the main differences between John Adams' and Thomas Jefferson's beliefs about federalism," is a restricted response. What the student is to write about has been expressed to them within the question.
  • Extended Response - These allow students to select what they wish to include in order to answer the question. For example, "In Of Mice and Men , was George's killing of Lennie justified? Explain your answer." The student is given the overall topic, but they are free to use their own judgment and integrate outside information to help support their opinion.

Student Skills Required for Essay Tests

Before expecting students to perform well on either type of essay question, we must make sure that they have the required skills to excel. Following are four skills that students should have learned and practiced before taking essay exams:

  • The ability to select appropriate material from the information learned in order to best answer the question.
  • The ability to organize that material in an effective manner.
  • The ability to show how ideas relate and interact in a specific context.
  • The ability to write effectively in both sentences and paragraphs.

Constructing an Effective Essay Question

Following are a few tips to help in the construction of effective essay questions:

  • Begin with the lesson objectives in mind. Make sure to know what you wish the student to show by answering the essay question.
  • Decide if your goal requires a restricted or extended response. In general, if you wish to see if the student can synthesize and organize the information that they learned, then restricted response is the way to go. However, if you wish them to judge or evaluate something using the information taught during class, then you will want to use the extended response.
  • If you are including more than one essay, be cognizant of time constraints. You do not want to punish students because they ran out of time on the test.
  • Write the question in a novel or interesting manner to help motivate the student.
  • State the number of points that the essay is worth. You can also provide them with a time guideline to help them as they work through the exam.
  • If your essay item is part of a larger objective test, make sure that it is the last item on the exam.

Scoring the Essay Item

One of the downfalls of essay tests is that they lack in reliability. Even when teachers grade essays with a well-constructed rubric, subjective decisions are made. Therefore, it is important to try and be as reliable as possible when scoring your essay items. Here are a few tips to help improve reliability in grading:

  • Determine whether you will use a holistic or analytic scoring system before you write your rubric . With the holistic grading system, you evaluate the answer as a whole, rating papers against each other. With the analytic system, you list specific pieces of information and award points for their inclusion.
  • Prepare the essay rubric in advance. Determine what you are looking for and how many points you will be assigning for each aspect of the question.
  • Avoid looking at names. Some teachers have students put numbers on their essays to try and help with this.
  • Score one item at a time. This helps ensure that you use the same thinking and standards for all students.
  • Avoid interruptions when scoring a specific question. Again, consistency will be increased if you grade the same item on all the papers in one sitting.
  • If an important decision like an award or scholarship is based on the score for the essay, obtain two or more independent readers.
  • Beware of negative influences that can affect essay scoring. These include handwriting and writing style bias, the length of the response, and the inclusion of irrelevant material.
  • Review papers that are on the borderline a second time before assigning a final grade.
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Writing and grading supply-response, essay questions.

1.        Restrict essay question domains to those learning outcomes that cannot be adequately measured using select-response or short-answer supply response items.

Useful for assessing students’ skills in the following processes:

Relating cause and effect





Not as useful for assessing students’ skills in the following processes:

Comparing/Contrast (when domains to be compared are few)

e.g., Tell what you know about “x”.  

2.        Be specific about the criteria to be used for evaluating the question.

e.g.,   Write a two page statement defending the importance of conserving our natural resources.   Your answer will be evaluated in terms of its organization, its comprehensiveness, and the relevance of the arguments presented.  

Or work backwards from your rubric, but don’t confuse your students.   A rubric is a grading device, not a tool to help students during the assessment task.

3.        Make the task clear.

Poor:   Why do birds migrate?

Better:   Write three explanations about why snow geese migrate south in the fall and winter.   Indicate the most probable of these explanations and give three reasons for your selection.  

4.        Indicate a time limit for each question.   In addition, tell students the grading weight of the question.   

5.        Avoid the use of optional questions.  

Decreases the validity of the test—the students are taking different tests.   Encourages “spot” studying.  

Scoring Essay questions

  • Prepare an outline of the expected answer in advance.  
  • Use the most appropriate scoring rubric
  • Decide how to handle factors irrelevant to the outcomes being measured.
  • Evaluate papers anonymously
  • If the stakes are high, two graders are required.


Essay question type.

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  • Short-Answer
  • Third-party question types
  • Questions FAQ

Note : This page is about the essay question type in the Quiz activity. For information about the essay question type in a Lesson activity, see the documentation Building Lesson .

  • 1 About the essay question type
  • 2.1 Response options
  • 2.2 Response template
  • 2.3 Grader information
  • 3 Question grading

About the essay question type

The essay question type provides the option of answering by uploading one or more files and/or entering text online. (For longer essays, text or file uploads, you may wish to consider using the Assignment activity rather than this question type.)

Essay questions are created in the same way as other quiz question types. The difference is that essay questions have to be marked manually, and the student will not get a final grade until the teacher has marked their essay.

Creating an essay question

  • If you haven't yet made a quiz, access the Question bank from Course administration>Question bank and click the button 'Create a new question', choosing 'Essay'.
  • If you have made a quiz, access the Edit quiz screen and from the Add drop down, choose 'Add a new question', choosing 'Essay'.
  • Give the question a descriptive name - this allows you to identify it in the Question bank.
  • Enter the question in the 'Question text' field. This will be the title of and information about the essay you wish them to write.
  • Set the 'default mark' and any 'General Feedback' if required. This is text that appears to the student once you have graded their essay.

Response options

  • 'Response format' allows you to choose what is available for the students when typing their essays, for example the regular WYSIWYG editor with or without the option to upload files, or a plain text editor (with no formatting.) No online text means they cannot type any text. You cannot select this if you don't allow attachments, as the students will have nothing to submit. If you have programming students, they may require plain text with monospaced font for their code. You should select 'HTML editor with file picker' if you wish to provide the audio and video recording buttons in the HTML editor.
  • 'Require text' allows you to decide whether or not students must add text into the text editor when they do the question. If you only want them to upload a word-processed file as an essay, then you can set this to 'Text input is optional'. (Note that this setting does not force the student to type text into the text editor; they can still leave it blank and continue to another question.)
  • 'Accepted file types' allows you to specify type(s) of file the students must upload.
  • New in 3.11: You can set a maximum and minimum word count for the Essay question. Learners will be alerted if they write too few or too many words.


Response template

It is possible for a teacher to create a template to scaffold the student's answer in order to give them extra support. The template is then reproduced in the text editor when the student starts to answer the question. See YouTube video Essay scaffold with the Moodle quiz It is also possible to include grading information for teachers marking the essay to refer to as they assess the essays:

Grader information

Here you can store information about the evaluation for the grading persons (teachers), e.g. evaluation criteria, sample solutions, etc.

Question grading

The essay question will not be assigned a grade until it has been reviewed by a teacher and manually graded. Until that happens, the student's grade will be counted as 0 and shown as a - (dash).

To grade essays answer in quizzes using the Boost theme , click on the quiz and then, click the Results tab, in the dropdown menu choose Manual grading . For other themes, click Manual grading from the Quiz results section of your quiz administration block.

Manual grading Moodle 4.png

Then you can choose one question from that quiz, and grade that question for all the students.

Manual grading question4 Moodle 4.png

If you choose the 'Responses' tab, you can browse all the questions from all the students.. and you might discover (in the following image) that some students have nearly identical answers, which suggests cheating...

Manual grading questioncheating Moodle 4.png

When manually grading an essay question, the grader is able to enter a custom comment in response to the essay and assign a score for the essay.

If necessary the teacher can also upload a file such as an image (or even record audio/video) in the essay grading box.

  • Need help with understanding manual grading forum discussion
  • Essay (auto-grade) question type - additional plugin
  • The Essay module for H5P - A free HTML5-based content type that allows students to receive instant feedback to a text that they have composed. Authors can define a set of keywords that will trigger individual responses if they are found or missing in the text. Let students become creative with H5P and Essay in Moodle.

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The Ultimate Essay Test Guide: Achieve Top Grades With Ease

An essay test, a fundamental tool in academic assessment, measures a student's ability to express, argue, and structure their thoughts on a given subject through written words. This test format delves deeper into a student's critical thinking and writing skills unlike other conventional exam types.

Essay Test, Illustration of a person in front of a well prepared essay, StudySmarter Magazine

What is an Essay Test?

An essay test is a type of assessment in which a student is prompted to respond to a question or a series of questions by writing an essay.

This form of test isn’t merely about checking a student’s recall or memorisation skills , but more about gauging their ability to comprehend a subject, synthesise information, and articulate their understanding effectively.

Types of Essay Tests

Essay tests can be broadly classified into two categories: Restricted Response and Extended Response .

  • Restricted Response tests focus on limited aspects, requiring students to provide short, concise answers.
  • Extended Response tests demand more comprehensive answers, allowing students to showcase their creativity and analytical skills.

Advantages and Limitations of an Essay Test

Essay tests offer numerous benefits but also have certain limitations. The advantages of an essay test are :

  • They allow teachers to evaluate students’ abilities to organise, synthesise, and interpret information.
  • They help in developing critical thinking and writing skills among students.
  • They provide an opportunity for students to exhibit their knowledge and understanding of a subject in a broader context.

And the limitations of an essay test are :

  • They are time-consuming to both take and grade.
  • They are subject to scoring inconsistencies due to potential subjective bias.
  • They may cause the students who struggle with written expression may face difficulties, and these tests may not accurately reflect the full spectrum of a student’s knowledge or understanding.

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Understanding the Structure of an Essay Test

Essay tests involve a defined structure to ensure organised, coherent, and comprehensive expression of thoughts. Adhering to a specific structure can enhance your ability to answer essay questions effectively .

The 7 Steps of an Essay

Writing an essay test typically involves seven steps :

  • Understanding the question
  • Brainstorming ideas
  • Creating an outline
  • Crafting a thesis statement
  • Writing the essay body
  • Formulating the conclusion
  • Revising and editing for clarity and conciseness

A checklist of 7 steps to prep for an essay test, including brainstorming ideas, creating an outline and writing a thesis. StudySmarter Magazine

The First Sentence in an Essay

The initial sentence of an essay, often termed a hook , plays a crucial role.

It aims to grab the reader’s attention and provoke interest in the essay topic. It should be engaging, and relevant, and set the tone for the rest of the essay .

The 5-Paragraph Essay Format

The 5-paragraph essay format is commonly used in essay tests, providing a clear and organised approach for students to articulate their ideas. In this format, the introduction and the conclusion include 1 paragraph, while the body of the essay includes 3 .

  • Introduction : The introduction sets the stage, providing a brief overview of the topic and presenting the thesis statement – the central argument or point.
  • Body : The body of the essay contains three paragraphs, each presenting a separate point that supports the thesis statement. Detailed explanations, evidence, and examples are included here to substantiate the points.
  • Conclusion : The conclusion reiterates the thesis statement and summarises the main points. It provides a final perspective on the topic, drawing the essay to a close.

Essay Test, Illustration of a person marking different areas on a paper, StudySmarter Magazine

How to Prepare for an Essay Test?

Preparing for an essay test demands a structured approach to ensure thorough understanding and effective response. Here are some strategies to make this task more manageable:

#1 Familiarise Yourself with the Terminology Used

Knowledge of key terminologies is essential. Understand the meaning of directives such as “describe”, “compare”, “contrast”, or “analyse”. Each term guides you on what is expected in your essay and helps you to answer the question accurately.

To make it easier, you can take advantage of AI technologies. While preparing for your exam, use similar essay questions as prompts and see how AI understands and evaluates the questions. If you are unfamiliar with AI, you can check out The Best Chat GPT Prompts For Essay Writing .

#2 Review and Revise Past Essays

Take advantage of past essays or essay prompts to review and revise your writing . Analyse your strengths and areas for improvement, paying attention to grammar , structure , and clarity . This process helps you refine your writing skills and identify potential pitfalls to avoid in future tests.

#3 Practice Timed Writing

Simulate test conditions by practising timed writing . Set a specific time limit for each essay question and strive to complete it within that timeframe. This exercise builds your ability to think and write quickly , improving your efficiency during the actual test.

#4 Utilise Mnemonic Techniques

To aid in memorisation and recall of key concepts or arguments, employ mnemonic techniques . These memory aids, such as acronyms, visualisation, or association techniques, can help you retain important information and retrieve it during the test. Practice using mnemonics to reinforce your understanding of critical points.

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Strategies to Pass an Essay Test

Passing an essay test goes beyond understanding the topic; it also requires strategic planning and execution . Below are key strategies that can enhance your performance in an essay test.

  • Read the exam paper thoroughly before diving into writing : read the entire exam paper thoroughly. Understand each question’s requirement and make a mental note of the points to be included in each response. This step will help in ensuring that no aspect of the question is overlooked.
  • Answer in the First Sentence and Use the Language of the Question : Begin your essay by clearly stating your answer in the first sentence. Use the language of the question to show you are directly addressing the task. This approach ensures that your main argument is understood right from the start.
  • Structure Your Essay : Adopt a logical essay structure , typically comprising an introduction, body, and conclusion. This helps in organising your thoughts, making your argument clearer, and enhancing the readability of your essay.
  • Answer in Point Form When Running Out of Time : If time is running short, present your answer in point form. This approach allows you to cover more points quickly, ensuring you don’t leave any questions unanswered.
  • Write as Legibly as Possible : Your writing should be clear and easy to read. Illegible handwriting could lead to misunderstandings and may negatively impact your grades.
  • Number Your Answers : Ensure your answers are correctly numbered. This helps in aligning your responses with the respective questions, making it easier for the examiner to assess your work, and reducing chances of confusion or error
  • Time Yourself on Each Question : Time management is crucial in an essay test. Allocate a specific amount of time to each question, taking into account the marks they carry. Ensure you leave ample time for revising and editing your responses. Practising this strategy can prevent last-minute rushes and result in a more polished essay.

About the Author Oğulcan Tezcan is a writer, translator, editor, and an accomplished engineer. Oğulcan is also a keen researcher and digital market analyst, with a particular interest in self-development, productivity, and human behaviour.

Frequently Asked Questions About Essay Tests

How do you answer an essay question, when taking an essay test what is the first step, what type of test is an essay test, what is the first sentence in an essay, what are the six elements of an essay.

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