VCE EAL: Responding to short-answer questions

VCE EAL: Responding to short-answer questions

This week, Insight writer and EAL teacher Michael E Daniel provides tips on how to respond to and prepare for short-answer questions.



In Year 12 EAL you are required to complete short-answer questions for Section A (Listening to texts) and Section C (Argument and persuasive language) in the end-of-year examination. In both of these sections, you will need to demonstrate that you understand the texts well.

This post presents some general tips for responding to short-answer questions, as well as some specific advice for both Sections A and C of the exam. It also includes practice activities to help you hone your comprehension skills.


Mark allocations

Mark allocations are sometimes based on the number of details or facts that you are required to provide. The number of marks allocated to a question does not always correspond to the number of points you need to include, but it is a good guide. Sometimes you may need to provide two details in order to gain one mark.

The degree of difficulty of the question can also influence the mark allocation. The wording of a question can often help you gauge the level of difficulty. For example, if a question contains phrases such as ‘what is suggested by’ or ‘what is implied’, you can assume that some interpretation or inference is required. In contrast, questions that ask you to ‘list two reasons’ typically require you to simply restate the information given in the text.

It can also be helpful to look carefully at how much space is provided for writing. For example, if two lines are given, you are likely to be required to provide two details.

If a question asks for two details, give only two, not three or more. The assessor will consider only your first two answers and ignore any others.


Writing answers

 When attempting to answer questions, you should:

  • answer the whole question (i.e. address all parts of the question)
  • answer nothing but the question (i.e. do not provide extra information or information from outside the text).

The first step to writing strong answers is to ensure that you understand both the texts and the questions. During reading time, check the meaning of any unfamiliar words using your dictionary.

You should also avoid the following two extremes:

  • being too wordy – usually you do not need to include the stem of the question in your answer
  • being too brief, so that your answers do not make sense or are difficult for an assessor to understand.


Question types

A variety of formats are used for the questions in Section A of the exam. These include, but are not limited to, the following question types.

  • Fill-in-the-gap questions – Look carefully at the question to determine whether you are asked to quote from the text or if you need to provide your own word or phrase.
  • Short-answer questions – Read the question carefully to determine how many pieces of information are required.
  • Tables – These types of questions should be answered in dot-point or note form, as you will not have enough space to answer using a complete sentence.
  • Multiple-choice questions – If you can’t identify the correct answer immediately, begin by eliminating the answers you think are incorrect.


In Section C, some questions will ask you to identify pieces of information from specific points in the text. Other questions will require you to show a wide understanding across the whole text or a significant part.


Tips for completing Section A short-answer questions

  • Identify the key words in each question. If you hear these words in the audio text, they might indicate where you can find the answer to the question.
  • During the first play-through of the audio text, note down in dot-point form any key details relevant to each question.
  • During the one-minute pause after the first play-through, review your notes and make marks – such as question marks or asterisks – in the note-taking section on the right-hand side of your paper to indicate where you are missing information.
  • During the second play-through, fill in the information you need and make sure you have answered each question with sufficient detail.
  • After the second play-through, you have six minutes to answer the questions. Unless the question states otherwise, you are not required to answer in full sentences.
  • Proofread your answers carefully. Imagine the person reading your answers has not heard the text. Could they understand the point you are attempting to convey in your answer?


Tips for completing Section C short-answer questions

  • Read the questions carefully first to determine exactly what they are asking, and what information you need to look for.
  • Your first reading of the text should be to familiarise yourself with the content. This is normally done during the 15 minutes of reading time.
  • In your second reading, during writing time, identify information relevant to the questions by underlining or circling sections of the text and placing letters in the margins that correspond to the questions.
  • Re-read the text to check your answers.


Practice activities

  1. Annotate practice questions to identify what you need to do to achieve full marks for each.
  2. Practise rewriting questions in your own words to develop your skills in determining exactly what the question is asking.
  3. Write dot-point summaries of short texts (for example, letters to the editor). Show them to a friend (but don’t show your friend the original texts), and ask if they can understand the main points of each text based on your summaries.
  4. Programs such as RN Drive on the Radio National website contain a variety of reasonably short podcasts (five to ten minutes). Practise listening to and writing summaries of audio texts such as these.
  5. Write short-answer questions for these audio texts. Exchange questions with a friend, and compare your answers.


If you follow the tips above and continue to practise these skills throughout the rest of the year, you will be well prepared for answering short-answer questions on the end-of-year exam. Good luck!


Need a comprehensive overview of the Year 12 EAL course? Purchase Insight’s EAL Year 12 2nd edition by Melanie Napthine and Michael E Daniel. This 2nd edition of the market-leading textbook for Year 12 EAL provides comprehensive coverage of the VCE English as an Additional Language course. The book includes tools, tips, models, word banks and cloze exercises to assist in progressively developing your writing skills, as well as your listening and comprehension abilities. 

EAL Year 12 2nd edition is produced by Insight Publications, an independent, Australian educational publisher.


Photo Credit: nhungboon/ Shutterstock

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