Answering Exam Questions

Look at each exam question to identify key words

Once you've set up an overall plan about which questions to answer first and how much time you have for each response, read each question carefully. Perhaps the biggest problem teachers report is that students don't answer the question asked. You can't respond appropriately if you don't take the time to see what the question asks you to do, and key words typically tell you what to focus on. These are some of the most common key words in exam questions:

Describe
Analyze
Compare
Evaluate
Argue
Explain
Define
Generalize
List
Reflect
Discuss

Warning: Teachers don't always use the most precise key word for the kind of writing that will best answer the question. Use your best judgment based on the content to decide if the question really wants you to analyze when it says "describe." If you're in doubt, ASK.

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Introduction