Essay items are questions that require the student to supply and develop the correct answer. This is different from objective items in which the options are provided and the student selects from among them. Essay items focus upon higher level thinking in comparison to the lower level thinking focus of objective items. There are two common types of essay items and they are the long response essay and the limited response essay.
Long Response Essay
The long response essay is a complex essay of several or more paragraphs that addresses a challenging question that requires deep thinking. An example of a long response essay item is below.
Compare and contrast Ancient Egypt and Ancient Mesopotamia. Consider the geographic, economic, social, and military approaches. Your response will be graded upon accuracy, depth of thinking, organization, and clarity.
Such a question as the one above requires significant critical thinking in order to identify how these two nations were similar and how they were different. There are an infinite number of potential answers and approaches. A distinct trait of essay items is the potential for so many equally acceptable solutions. Success is determined by the quality of the response rather than in finding one correct answer.
Limited Response Essay
Limited response essays items require a student to recall information in an organized way in order to address a specific problem. The length of the response may be a paragraph or two and the answer does not have the same depth as long response. One reason the answers are shorter and simpler is because these types of questions may only address one issue per item. Long response essay items will deal with several issues in each item. Below is an example of a limited response item.
Explain two differences between Ancient Egypt and Ancient Mesopotamia.
The answer to this question could easily be supplied in a short paragraph. The student list two differences and they should receive full credit. If you compare this item to the long response item you can see the difference in difficulty. One difference is there is no criteria on how the student will be graded. The assumptions are listing two differences is enough for full credit. Another difference is the expectations. The long response wanted several comparisons and contrasts while the limited response only required to short contrast.
In the next post, we will discuss when to use essay items, give suggestions for their development, and ideas for marking.