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Short Answer Questions:
Writing Better Answers
Julian Ingle
Thinking Writing
Activity 1: Raising awareness of
good writing
1. What are your thoughts about writing SAQs?
2. Thinking about your answers to previous
SAQs, to what extent do you think the
following are important in good-quality written
answers: e.g. style, content, level of detail –
anything else?
Features of SAQ Writing
SAQs ask you to do one or a combination of
the following:
To write accurate definitions, descriptions
and explanations.
To show clear reasoning and argumentation.
To show cause-and-effect relationships.
To write concisely.
Types of Questions
• a) Descriptive: e.g. Defining terms or listing
(primarily the facts)
• b) Explanatory: e.g. ‘explain the significance
with regard to’ questions (why/how is x
important for y?) or ‘cause and effect’
• c) Applied – may involve analysis: e.g. scenario
+ explanation questions (Given x scenario, why
does y happen/why is y important, etc?)
Think! What’s the question asking for: is it facts,
or facts and something more (explanation of
importance of those facts, indication of a
relationship between those facts, etc.)?
Activity 2: Awareness of Question Types
Here are some typical SAQs: Which type of
questions do they relate to primarily?
Define the terms: spider naevi, lymphadenopathy,
ascites and myxoedema
State 5 clinical features of this patient that are
important to make a diagnosis
Giving 2 examples, explain how splenomegaly can
Explain the significance of lactic acid with respect to
energy metabolism during exercise
Give 2 reasons why an adolescent with a chronic
disease might not comply with treatment
Activity 3:
Awareness of Strong and Weak Answers
Look at the four answers to the question below
and mark them as if you were the tutor – what
mark would each of them receive? What
strengths/weaknesses does each one have?
Explain the significance of lactic acid with
respect to energy metabolism during exercise.
(2 marks)
Answer A)
Statement of fact not related
to question. Significance?
Lactic acid could be converted back into pyruvate in
sufficient oxygen. Lactate builds up in insufficient oxygen
when pyruvate could not be converted into acetyl CoA
with the emission of CO2.
Mark 1/2
Answer B)
Lactic acid causes fatigue. Produced when no glycogen
is available and lipid is used to create ATP to form
glucose. This inhibits PDH & lactate is formed from
Mark 0/2
Answer C)
During exercise there may be an insufficient oxygen
supply to the skeletal muscles (due to vigorous
contractions). Therefore, glucose can be converted to
pyruvate via glycolysis but it cannot be oxidised to
acetyl-CoA. Due to the lack of oxygen, the pyruvate
dehydrogenase complex
is blocked and so lactate
dehydrogenase converts pyruvate to lactic acid. This
oxidises NADH to NAD+ which can be used in glycolysis.
Mark 2/2
Answer D)
Lactic acid is a product of anaerobic respiration. This
occurs when oxygen is starved. Glycolysis of glucose to
pyruvate produces a net gain of 2 ATP. Also, in
glycolysis, NAD is reduced to form NADH. The
conversion of pyruvate produces NAD+ from NADH so
NAD+ can be recycled. ATP is an energy intermediary.
Mark: 1.5/2
Activity 4:
Awareness of Strong and Weak Answers
The next example is worth more (5 marks) and
so requires a longer answer, re-reading the
situation and allowing 5 minutes to write. Mark
the 3 answers as if you were the tutor – what
mark would each of them receive? What
strengths/weaknesses does each one have?
Briefly describe the histological findings in the
epidermis and dermis of psoriasis plaques.
(5 marks)
Answer A
Increased keratinocyte proliferation. – multiple
Infiltration by T-cells.
There is increased keratinocyte proliferation leading
to multiple layers found at the stratum corneum and
the keratinocytes maintain their nuclei. There is also
dilation of capillaries in the dermis. T-lymphocytes
are also seen and they aid the inflammatory process.
Mark: 2/5
Answer B
→ inflamation of the epidermal & dermal layers of the skin
→ swollen finger joints
→ salmon pink rash
→ scaly dry patch
→ onycholysis → whitening of the nail plate & separation
from the nail bed
→ nail pitting
→ leukonychia
→ hyperkeratosis
Mark: 2/5
Answer C)
There is thickening of the epidermis – with proliferation of
the keratinocytes and increased keratinisation. Strateum
corneus becomes thickened and ↑number of
parakeratotic cells.
In the dermis there is an accumulation
of inflammatory
cells, such as lymphocytes and release of inflammatory
mediators. Vasodilation of vessels within the dermis.
Also proliferation of the basal cells and as cells migrate
through the layers an increasing amount retain their
Mark: 5/5
Activity 5: Writing Concisely (Part 1)
Look at the following two examples:
– The central nervous system does not function
– CNS dysfunction
What do you notice about them? How do they
function at the level of grammar?
Nominalisation Exercise
Look at the phrases below and transform them into noun phrases
or nominalisations:
1) The production of leucocytes gradually increased.
2) The tissue responded with inflammation which decreased over time.
3) This is followed by an excessive amount of mucus being produced.
Possible answers:
1) Increased leucocyte production.
2) Decreased inflammatory response.
3) Excessive mucus production follows.
Activity 6: Writing Concisely (Part 2)
Look at a student’s answer to the question below and summarise it in
NO MORE THAN 20 words.
Question: The enzyme pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) catalyses the
conversion of pyruvate to acetyl CoA in the mitochondria. Some
children have a deficiency of this enzyme activity.
Explain why:
these children have impaired neurological function.
Student’s answer:
The conversion of pyruvate to lactate does not yield enough ATP.
Krebs cycle cannot take place as there is little acetyl CoA (from glucose
there is none!) No reduced coenzymes to enter oxidative
phosphorylation stage and so not enough ATP is made.
Without ATP, cells (neurones, etc.) cannot carry out work and the brain
and body cannot function properly. [ 60 words ]
Possible answer: Caused by inadequate supply of ATP to neurones dependent on complete oxidation of glucose via PDH (16 words)