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Answering the Constructed Response Essay Question

written by: virtualibrarian • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 3/2/2012

You will most likely encounter "constructed response" questions on standardized tests and college placement exams. Learn how to formulate answers, as well as how such answers are graded (i.e. what makes a good answer as opposed to a not-so-good one).

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    What is a Constructed Response?

    A constructed response is a type of open-ended essay question that demonstrates cognitive knowledge and reasoning. The answer must be provided using information that can be found in a particular text or other essay prompt (map, picture, graphic organizer, etc.), and is not meant to demonstrate opinion, but to show how you are able to extract information and use this as the basis for forming a complete answer. Constructed response essays are increasingly used on standardized tests ranging from the statewide assessments that usually begin in third grade all the way up to the college placement exams such as the SAT and ACT.

    To understand and answer the constructed response essay question, the easiest way is to memorize the acronym "RACE" - this stands for reword, answer, cite and explain. If you are able to restate a question, provide an answer using evidence cited from the prompt given, and then explain how that evidence does, in fact, support the answer, you will probably score well on the constructed response essay section of any exam you take.

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    Rewording the Question (the "R" in "RACE")

    Reword the question means that you are to restate the question and make it into a statement as a part of the answer you provide. If you were to be asked "What color is the sky?", you would not simply answer "blue" - instead, the correct answer would be "The color of the sky is blue," or words to that effect.

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    Answering the Question (the "A" in "RACE")

    In order to answer the question, you need to understand what you are being asked, and then make sure you provide the answer to that specific question. The answer, as in the example above, may come in the first sentence as you reword the question into a statement, but in an essay question you will then need to show how you arrived at your answer.

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    Citing Evidence (the "C" in "RACE")

    As the constructed response question is meant to show how well you comprehended and were able to draw inferences from the essay prompt, it is essential that you give examples from the prompt to show how they support your answer. If the prompt is a story you read about a boy named Joe who loves to ski, and the question is "Does Joe like the winter?", you could answer "Joe likes the winter because the story tells us that he loves skiing and skiing is a winter sport." In your essay you could go on to provide specific details that tell you how much he enjoys skiing (and, by extension, winter), such as quoting a line that says "Joe enjoyed the feel of the icy-cold air on his cheeks."

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    Explaining the Answer (the "E" in "RACE")

    In addition to the evidence you've cited from the prompt, you will need to supply your own reasoning for why you think your answer is correct. Returning to the example above, the story about Joe who loved to ski, your examples from the text would be the details about how he enjoyed skiing and the cold air, but your own reasoning would be demonstrated by explaining that you know that skiing and cold air are things he is only likely to encounter during the winter, therefore his enjoyment of these things must mean that he also enjoys the winter season.

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    A Rubric for Evaluating the Constructed Response

    If your answer to the constructed response essay question displays an understanding of the question in all its complexity, uses information from the prompt (either information directly presented to you or that you've inferred) and provides a complete explanation of how the answer was arrived at that demonstrates your use of logic or reasoning, you may receive the highest score (usually a 3) on your answer. If your answer addresses some of the question or uses evidence that only partially supports your conclusion or does not directly connect to it, you may receive a somewhat lower grade of 2. If you attempt to answer the question but your essay demonstrates that you may have musunderstood it, or your answer lacks any relevant or meaningful supporting evidence to support your conclusion, you may receive an even lower grade of 1. If you do not answer at all, or if your answer is incorrect or irrelevant, you may receive the lowest grade of 0.