How to Respond to Short Answer Questions in Your Application

Nov 29, 2018

By Deborah Vieyra

Oh, I’ll just leave those short answers to the end.

I’ll focus on everything else first and get to those when I have time.

What? I’ve still got to answer these?

If this string of sentences sounds at all familiar, you are probably mid-application and have just come face-to-face with those sneaky little short answer questions. If, on the other hand, you have yet to arrive at this part of your application, I’ll let you in on what can be expected.

Some applications require short answers of 100 to 200 words regarding your experience, skills and motivations for applying to a particular school or fellowship. While these questions might not seem to hold the same weight as, say, your personal statement or resume, they are still a vital component of your application and should be considered with care. Every word that you submit as part of your application package is important. Putting time and energy into making sure that you compile your entire application to the best of your ability will dramatically increase your chances of success.

If you’re wondering how to approach these short answer questions in a way that does justice to the hard work you’ve put into the rest of your application, here are a few tips to keep in mind.  

#1 Be direct.

Answer the question asked of you. While this may sound obvious, you will be surprised at how many people digress when it comes to answering simple questions. Longer responses, such as your personal statement, offer a little more leeway when it comes to including tangential information — but even then it is always important to continually link back to the main thread of your piece. Short answers offer no time for divergences whatsoever. This is not the time for musings or prose. Make sure you answer the question directly with as much detail as the word count will allow. Once you have written your answer, go back to the question and ask yourself whether you have answered what was asked of you. If not, revise until you have provided a direct answer.

#2 Cut out fluff.

Verbosity has no place in your application, and especially not when it comes to your shorter answers. Be careful not to use repetitive words or filler. You have to be supremely disciplined with how you express yourself. Compose your answer and then return to the beginning. Be meticulous. Every phrase should be valuable in making your point. If there is a single word that feels superfluous, revise the sentence. When it comes to your short answers, you only have so many words to make your point. You have to make sure that every single one helps you do so.

And now for the tip that many of you may not want to hear:

#3 Don’t procrastinate.

Just because these questions require short answers, doesn’t mean they are any less important than the longer parts of your application. It is worth spending time on them. Use them as an opportunity to give the selection committee more insight into why you are the perfect candidate for them, rather than something you have to rush to finish. Instead of leaving them to the night before the application is due, why not make them your first priority? Completing the short answers first may be the ideal way to propel yourself forward into finishing the other tasks required of you.

Here’s the bottom line — every detail of your application counts. Just because a question requires a shorter answer, doesn’t mean that it is of any less importance. Ensure that you put the time and energy into these questions that they deserve.

Deborah Vieyra is a Fulbright alumna from South Africa who completed her MA in Applied Theatre Arts at the University of Southern California. She now works as a writer, proofreader and performer in Vancouver, Canada.

© Victoria Johnson 2018, all rights reserved.