Published: Mon, 07 May 2018
Interpreting Essay Questions
So, you’ve been assigned an essay question and you’re not sure where to start?
This guide will help you understand how to gain a better understanding of your essay question.
Common essay questions:
The list below describes some of the most common types of essay question:
- Account for: Explain, clarify, give reasons.
- Analyse: Resolve into component parts. Examine critically and minutely.
- Assess: Determine the value of, weigh up (similar to evaluate).
- Compare: Look for similarities and differences between, perhaps reach conclusions about which is preferable Contrast Set in opposition in order to bring out the differences.
- Criticise: Make judgments (backed by the discussion of the evidence or reasoning involved).
- Define: State the exact meaning of a word or phrase. In some cases it may be necessary or desirable to examine different possible meanings or often used definitions.
- Describe: Give a detailed or graphic account.
- Discuss: Explain, then give two or more sides of the issue and any implications.
- Evaluate: Make an appraisal of the worth or validity or effectiveness of something in the light of its truth or usefulness (similar to assess).
- Explain: Make plain, interpret and account for, give reasons.
- How far..?: Determine to what extent – usually this requires looking at evidence or arguments for or against, and weighing them up.
- Illustrate: Make clear and explicit. Use carefully chosen examples.
- Interpret: Explain the meaning of, make clear and explicit, usually giving judgment.
- Justify: Show adequate grounds for decisions or conclusions, answer the main objection likely to be made about them.
- Outline: Give the main features or general principles of the subject, omitting minor details and emphasising structure and argument (similar to summarise).
- State: Present in a brief, clear form.
- Summarise: Give a concise, clear explanation or account of – present the chief factors and omit minor details and examples (similar to outline).
(Source: Open University : Assessment Guide 1, W100)
Get help interpreting essay questions:
Just got sent a choice of essay questions?
Find yourself asking:
- What am I being asked to do?
- What should I write about?
- How do I find relevant information?
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