Lighthouse Initiative for Texas Classrooms

Writing a Free-Response Answer in Chemistry and Physics

The following are intended to be guidelines for writing logical answers to free-response type questions and problems. These guidelines should be taught and reinforced at all levels.

Read the question twice including the introductory comments.

Underline or highlight what is given and what is required.

Do not restate the question or write an introductory paragraph.

If there are choices provided, read each question entirely before making your choice.

Free-response questions often include multiple concepts whether mathematical or short answer.

Mathematical questions

  • Mathematics problems should have all work shown completely in a logical fashion.
  • Units should be labeled throughout the problem and especially in the answer.
  • When equations are used, show the equation used before numerical substitution, then write the equation with substitution.
  • Relationships may be written in words rather than set up mathematically.
  • The final answer should be rounded to the correct number of significant digits with proper units.
  • In physics, the final answer may be required to be given in terms of a given variable.

Essay questions

  • Essays are really very short-answer questions.
  • Start by answering the question and then support your answer with explanations.
  • Bulleted statements, equations, structures, or sketches may provide much of the answer. Drawings are always helpful and sometimes required. For example, bonding questions in chemistry and free-body diagrams in physics should contain drawings.
  • Students must address all parts of the question.
  • Laboratory essays may include lists of materials, labeled diagrams, procedures, measurements to be taken, calculations to be performed, graphs to be drawn and/or analyzed, along with error analysis.