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Free response, usually referred to as essay, is a type of question used in tests in education, workplace, and government. Most free response questions ask or require the test-taker to state a belief, opinion, or write a short essay and support it with facts, examples, or other evidence. However, few tests solely rely on these types of problems, and tend to work in conjunction with other types, such as multiple choice. Free response questions generally test more than straight knowledge and ask for a "big picture" type of response (see example). Also, they usually allow the taker to choose an area in which they are familiar. According to National Council on Measurement in Education, a free-response item is  a test item in which the responders must create a response or product rather than choose a response from a set supplied with the item. A short-answer item, mathematics problem, and writing sample are examples.
Free-response items are distinct from fixed-response items in that examiners must supply a full and independent response. There are no answer options from which to choose. Free-response items are typically discouraged from examinations because of the difficulty, bias, and time effort required in grading them. However, some general guidelines for developing these questions include the following:
The shorter the answer required for a given essay item, generally the better. More objectives can be tested in the same period of time, and factors such as verbal fluency, spelling, etc., have less of an opportunity to influence the grader.
- Help the examiners focus their answers by giving them a starting sentence for their essay.
- Make sure questions are sharply focused on a single issue. Do not give either the examiner or the grader too much freedom in determining what the answer should be.
Supporters argue that this type of question on tests is that it gives a better indication of the competence and intelligence of the test taker than other more standardized responses, which are claimed to often only measure test-taking ability. However, critics charge that the quality of a free response answer is often determined more by ability with the language in which it is given than competence or intelligence.
Choose two of the following areas and write a well-developed essay in which you analyze change over time and continuities on how technological advances affected the regions between 1914 and 1945:
Example thesis from 2007 AP World Student for change over time essay: 'Significant cultural ideologies such as Communism and Stalinism became the leading factors toward political and cultural change in the Soviet Union throughout 1914-1945. Ultimately, none of these changes were able to improve the standard of living for the working classes of Russia, which ironically had been the goal of the Russian Revolution in the first place.'
Famous free response tests
- SAT (also multiple choice)
- PSAT (also multiple choice)
- AP (also multiple choice)
- GRE (also multiple choice)
- National Council on Measurement in Education http://www.ncme.org/ncme/NCME/Resource_Center/Glossary/NCME/Resource_Center/Glossary1.aspx?hkey=4bb87415-44dc-4088-9ed9-e8515326a061#anchorC Archived 2017-07-22 at the Wayback Machine
- Learning materials related to Free response at Wikiversity