Understanding Exam Questions

Question keywords are also called 'command' words. These are the words in your exam questions that tell you what the examiner wants you to do. By understanding these command words, you are on your way to understanding your exam questions.

For example, you may be instructed in your exam question to 'describe' something within your answer. If your answer 'evaluates' rather than 'sets out the characteristics', you potentially haven't given the right answer.

Below you will find a list containing some of these command words. Some subjects may have more or different command words that aren't shown here. Ask your teachers for subject specific information.  

Analyse - separate information into components and identify their characteristics

Apply - put into effect in a recognised way

Argue - present a reasoned case

Assess - make an informed judgement

Calculate - work out the value of something

Comment - present an informed opinion

Compare - identify similarities

Complete - finish a task by adding to given information

Consider - review and respond to given information

Contrast - identify differences

Criticise - assess worth against explicit expectations
Debate - present different perspectives on an issue
Deduce - draw conclusions from information provided
Define - specify meaning
Describe - set out characteristics
Develop - take forward or build upon given information

Discuss - present key points

Estimate - assign an approximate value

Evaluate - judge from available evidence

Examine - investigate closely

Explain - set out purposes or reasons

Explore - investigate without preconceptions about the outcome

Give - produce an answer from recall

Identify - name or otherwise characterise

Illustrate - present clarifying examples

Interpret - translate information into recognisable form

Justify - support a case with evidence

Outline - set out main characteristics

Prove - demonstrate validity on the basis of evidence

Relate - demonstrate connections between items

Review - survey information

State - express in clear terms

Suggest - present a possible case

Summarise - present principal points without detail

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