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Free answer – four different question types in Canvas New Quizzes

Free answers can be written for mathematics in the question types “Formula” and “Numeric”, and for text in the question types “Fill in the Blank – Open Entry” and “Essay”. The question types have varying possibilities for automatic assessment, and you can set margins of error on the responses or variations to be accepted as correct. Here we explain the question types and their recommended use.


Give instructions for free text questions

Instructions for questions with free text answers should help students to give the answer in the correct format without giving away clues to the solution. An example: "Answer with two significant figures, without units, and use a full stop as punctuation mark if needed."


With the question type “Formula” you can generate randomized variables in the question text and the answers are then calculated according to a formula that you specify. The students respond to the question using digits, and you can set an absolute or percentage margin of error for the students’ answers. When this question is used, a calculator can be added to the quiz (visible in the upper right corner).

The question type has some limitations, for example that the formula is limited to basic functions and arguments. The variables must also be specified in an interval.  

Read more about “Formula” at Canvas Community .

Read more in the list about which functions and arguments that are supported at Canvas Community .

Recommended for calculation assignments

This question type is intended for calculation assignments. When this question type is used, each student gets different values in their assignment, which makes it more difficult to copy someone else’s answer. If the student is allowed multiple attempts on the quiz, they can get up to 200 different values for the same calculation to train on.


Students respond to the question type “Numeric” using digits, but the answers are not randomized, unlike “Formula”. You can add multiple correct answers and choose the same or different requirements for the answers. The requirements could be one of the following types:

  • "Exact Response”.
  • "Margin of Error”.
  • "Within a Range”.
  • "Precise Response”.

Read more about “Numeric” at Canvas Community .

Recommended if the response value has special significance

Since the answers are always the same for the question type “Numeric” it should be used when the answers have special significance, for example years or important constants. For assignments focusing on the calculation more than the answer, it is generally better to use the question type “Formula”.  

Fill in the Blank – Open Entry

With this question type you enter a text and replace certain words with an empty box which the student must then fill in with free text answers. “Fill in the Blank – Open Entry” is a question type that gives you a lot of freedom. It can be configured to accept multiple answers or variations, for example if it should be case sensitive or if a regular expression match should be used. It is possible to manually approve students’ answers when assessing if you notice that you have forgotten to enter an answer option.

To choose this question type, first choose “Fill in the Blank”, then choose “Open Entry” in the question type settings.  

Read more about “Fill in the Blank” at Canvas Community .

Recommended for unambiguous formulations

This question type is well suited for theorems or laws that can only be formulated in one or a few ways. You can also use the question type for calculations if you want to include the units in the answer.

  • Good example: “If a chemical reaction releases heat, it is an [exothermic] reaction.”
  • Less good example: “An exothermic reaction [releases heat].” Other correct answers could be “becomes warm”, “gives off heat” or “heats up”.

It is important that you think it through and test which different variations of the correct answer that students can use. Some classic variations on answers are uppercase/lowercase, dot/comma, units or not, with spaces between value and unit or not. For example, four variations of the value of gravitational acceleration at the Earth’s surface are needed: 9,82N 9.82N 9,82 N 9.82 N.


The question type “Essay” allows for free text answers of optional length. The answers must be assessed manually, and you can add "Grading Notes" to ensure all teachers in the course use the same criteria for grading. These notes are only visible to assessors. This question type can be adjusted by activating one or more of the following options:

  • "Rich Content Editor”. Gives the students access to the same text editor that you use in Canvas. Makes it possible to, for example, embed images or video answers in the text.
  • "Spell-check".
  • "Show Word Count”.
  • "Set Word Limit”.

Read more about “Essay” at Canvas Community .

Recommended for shorter free text answers

Texts from an “Essay” question in a quiz can only be assessed with a comment, unlike the annotation options with submitted files in an assignment. Therefore, shorter free text answers are better suited than long essays. Students can also become more worried that longer texts are not saved, even though they are automatically saved, just like all other quiz questions.  

Feel free to use word limits to guide students to better answers and a more even workload for you. A word limit of, for example, at least 20 words ensures the students need to write more than a simple yes or no. In the same way, an upper limit of, for example, 300 words ensures you don’t have to read a book about the subject when assessing the quiz.