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Something you will probably hear a lot during school is to make sure you answer the question in exams. It sounds like very obvious advice, but people so often don’t read the question carefully and lose marks on something they could have nailed.

Underlining the most important aspects of your question, whether it is a major essay or a multiple choice, forces you to think for a second about what the question is actually asking you. This will prevent you from rushing ahead and failing to address the questions requirements!

Another thing that will help you to answer the question in front of you is being comfortable with your directive words. These are words like ‘explain’, ‘discuss’ and ‘justify’ that indicate how you should present the material of your response. Below is the list from NESA which explains what is expected from you with each different question type.[1] It would be a really good idea to put the ones relevant to your subject on flashcards to help you learn! You probably won’t need all of them – you’re not likely to get a ‘propose’ question in modern history for example. So focus on the ones most relevant to your subjects.

List of Directive Question Words

Account for:

state reasons for, report on. Give an account of: narrate a series of events or transactions

Analyse:

Identify components and the relationship between them; draw out and relate implications

Apply:

Use, utilise, employ in a particular situation 

Appreciate:

Make a judgement about the value of

Assess:

Make a judgement of value, quality, outcomes, results or size

Calculate:

Ascertain/determine from given facts, figures or information

Clarify:

Make clear or plain

Classify:

Arrange or include in classes/categories

Compare:

Show how things are similar or different

Construct:

Make; build; put together items or arguments

Contrast:

Show how things are different or opposite

Critically (analyse/evaluate):

Add a degree or level of accuracy depth, knowledge and understanding, logic, questioning, reflection and quality to (analyse/evaluate)

Deduce:

Draw conclusions

Define:

State meaning and identify essential qualities

Demonstrate:

Show by example

Describe:

Provide characteristics and features

Discuss:

Identify issues and provide points for and/or against

Distinguish:

Recognise or note/indicate as being distinct or different from; to note differences between

Evaluate:

Make a judgement based on criteria; determine the value of

Examine:

Inquire into

Explain:

Relate cause and effect; make the relationships between things evident; provide why and/or how

Extract:

Choose relevant and/or appropriate details

Extrapolate:

Infer from what is known

Identify:

Recognise and name

Interpret:

Draw meaning from

Investigate:

Plan, inquire into and draw conclusions about

Justify:

Support an argument or conclusion

Outline:

Sketch in general terms; indicate the main features of

Predict:

Suggest what may happen based on available information

Propose:

Put forward (for example a point of view, idea, argument, suggestion) for consideration or action

Recall:

Present remembered ideas, facts or experiences

Recommend:

Provide reasons in favour

Recount:

Retell a series of events

Summarise:

Express, concisely, the relevant details

Synthesise:

Putting together various elements to make a whole

 

Being familiar with the question words relevant to your subjects will be a huge help. Even better, if you can write out a definition in your own words as well, that will ensure you are comfortable with using each of these. That means you won’t lose valuable marks simply because you didn’t answer the question fully!

By Lydia Fagen

[1] Glossary of Key Words