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What is a multiple short answer (MSA) question?

Multiple short answer (MSA) questions can be a useful question style, particularly when assessors want to test the depth of a candidate’s knowledge. They differ from short answer questions because they have a number of linked sub-questions. This is similar to extended matching questions (EMQ). However, unlike EMQs candidates are required to give a short answer in their own words to each question part, rather than selecting from a pre-defined list of answers.

With this question style, it’s harder for candidates to make a lucky guess and get the correct answer. At the same time, it’s possible to delve deeper into a subject. For example, in medical education, it’s possible to explore how a patient’s treatment may alter depending on various scenarios. Such questions could reveal those who have a breadth of knowledge about a topic versus those who only know the most common scenarios.

Creating Multiple Short Answer questions in the eSystem

Due to a growing demand for this question style, we’ve added it to our eSystem exam software. Creating multiple short answer questions has never been easier. Simply select the multiple short answer question format from the drop-down menu alongside any other question type for inclusion in your exams.


Creating Multiple Short Answer Question in the eSystem exam software

Example of a MSA question in the eSystem

In addition to creating multiple short answer questions from scratch, there’s also a merge tool available. You can select several existing short answer questions and merge them into one new multiple short answer question. The user simply chooses the short answer questions they want and selects “merge”. The order they are selected determines which sub-question they will become. The new multiple short answer question is then ready to edit, save or cancel. All the standard functionality of other question formats is available such as adding images and randomising and withdrawing questions. The randomise option works on the whole question – it doesn’t randomise the sub-questions. Question numbering is based on the sub-questions. If an exam has 2 MSA questions each with 5 sub-questions then there will be 10 questions in total in the exam.

After the exam, users can withdraw a complete multiple short answer question or they can withdraw 1 or more of the sub-questions.

Delivering and marking multiple short answer exams

During exam delivery, candidates are presented with one multiple short answer question per page. The question introduction is shown first, followed by a list of sub-questions, each of which has a text box below. Candidates type their answers into the text box. The flag and highlight tools can be used in both the introduction and any of the sub-questions. Giving students the flexibility to choose if they want to flag or highlight a whole question to revisit or just part of a question.

Post-exam, online marking and moderating is available. This works in a similar way to the short answer questions, but the mark and question tabs show each question part one after the other. Any comments and annotations are given at the sub-question level.

Complete exam management system

Creating multiple short answer questons has never been easier. And by choosing to run your exams using the eSystem, you get all of the benefits of an integrated exam management system; powerful question banking with statistical reports for question performance and valuable insights. Blueprinting for visual checks for any gaps in your assessments. Online marking and feedback. Plus detailed candidate feedback reports, flexibility and ease of use…to name a few.

To find out more about our eSystem, any of its features, or to arrange a demo, contact our sales team on +44 (0) 1223 851703 or email