How to Approach Short Answer Items on the GED Science Test

By Murray Shukyn, Dale E. Shuttleworth, Achim K. Krull

Although the term short answer usually means a few words or phrases in response to a statement or question, on the GED Science test, the Short Answer is closer to a full-blown essay. Introducing the Short Answer item is a stimulus or passage that outlines the material you’re supposed to base your response on. This material may be several paragraphs long; be sure to read it carefully.

Following the stimulus is the prompt, which tells you what’s expected of you in response to the stimulus. At this point, you’re in charge of your own destiny. You have to write the equivalent of a short essay (about 200 to 250 words) based on the information in the stimulus and corresponding to what’s needed to satisfy the prompt.

You should spend no more than about ten minutes to read the item, think about your answer, make notes, and write your response.

Here’s an example:


Scientists finally have their hands on a piece of Mars, sort of. Technology seemingly straight out of Star Trek allowed the replication of a rock on Mars, using a 3D printer.

The result is a realistic-looking, true-size facsimile of a Martian meteorite called Block Island. NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity found it in 2009. Block Island is the largest meteorite yet found on Mars. It is an iron-nickel meteorite about the size of a small ice chest. The real Block Island probably weighs a half-ton. You could easily carry its plastic twin under your arm.

Most meteorites break up when hitting the ground because today’s Martian atmosphere is not dense enough to slow them down enough. Scientists say this meteorite could have landed on Mars intact only if it had two things: a very specific entry point into the atmosphere and a very shallow flight path. That would slow it down enough to keep it from breaking apart upon landing.


Earthlings have been curious about Mars for centuries. Explain how these findings are satisfying, in part, our curiosity.

Write your response on a separate sheet of paper. This task may require approximately ten minutes to complete.

Here’s a sample response.

The existence of a reproduction of a piece of rock from Mars is a miraculous event. First, the invention of 3D printers has been a recent event and the use of such a printer to reproduce an object found on the surface of Mars is even more exciting. Without such modern advances in technology, we would not be able to look at an object from so far away.

In addition, the discovery of such a rock on Mars is even more exciting. Because of the thin atmosphere on Mars, most meteorites hit the surface with such velocity that they shatter. This one hit just right and was saved. Between the luck of the landing and the wonders of modern technology, we are able to satisfy our curiosity, in part, about Mars. Who knows what will be discovered next?

The Short Answer item is scored on a scale from 0 to 3 points, based on the following criteria.

  • A score of 3 points: You write a clear, well-developed explanation in response to the prompt, using the material in the stimulus. Instead of just copying sections of the stimulus, you paraphrase it to demonstrate understanding. Your writing demonstrates complete support from the stimulus.

  • A score of 2 points: You write a response that demonstrates partial or adequate understanding of the material in the stimulus and follows the guide in the prompt. Your writing shows partial support from the stimulus without just quoting passages.

  • A score of 1 point: You write a response that demonstrates minimal understanding of the stimulus with minimal or implied support from the stimulus.

  • A score of 0 points: You write a response that demonstrates neither explanation nor understanding of the material in the stimulus and a complete disregard for the direction in the prompt. You copy material from the stimulus or prompt with no attempt to explain or understand what was presented in the stimulus and prompt. Your response is incomprehensible or written in a language other than English. It is unanswered.

Make sure that your response is clear, concise, readable, and properly written. Although the scoring criteria in the preceding list doesn’t mention spelling and grammar, both are important and give a reader an idea of your skill level in written English.