Apr 19, 2010



The following explanations of essay question direction words can help you both to predict good essay questions at home and to thoroughly understand and correctly answer essay questions in the exam room. They have been categorized according to their level of difficulty. For the first group, it is often enough to simply memorize and correctly explain a term. For the second group, you must be able to see the relationships between the ideas and terms. In the third group, you are being asked to apply the information in a new situation or critically analyze a situation giving your own opinion. The more deeply you study and prepare at home using all three levels of questions; the better prepared you will be for an essay exam.

1. At the definition level:
Describe - Means to write a detailed account or verbal picture in a logical sequence or story form.

Discuss - Means to describe giving the details and explaining the pros and cons of it.

State - Means to describe the main points in precise terms. Be formal. Use brief, clear sentences. Omit details and examples.

Define/Explain - Means to give the formal meaning by distinguishing it from related terms. This is often a definition to be memorized.

List/Enumerate - Means to produce a numbered list of words, sentences or comments.

Trace - Means to follow the progress or history of the subject

2. At a deeper, more interpretive level
Compare - Means to show both the similarities and differences.

Contrast - Means to compare by showing the differences.

Diagram - Means to make a graph, chart, or drawing. Be sure to label and add brief explanation if necessary.

Illustrate - Means to explain or make it clear by concrete examples, comparisons, or analogies.

Summarize - Means to give a brief account of the main ideas. Omit details and examples.

Outline - Means to give a general summary. It should contain a series of main ideas supported by secondary ideas. Show organization. Omit details.

3. At the deepest level, you apply and evaluate information
Review - Means to give a survey or summary in which you look at the important parts and criticize where needed.

Prove - Means to show by argument or logic that it is true. The word prove has a special meaning in mathematics and physics.

Interpret - Means to give the meaning using examples and personal comments to make the ideas clear.

Evaluate - Means to give your opinion or some expert's opinion of the truth or importance of the concept. Tell the advantages and disadvantages.

Justify - Means to give a statement of why you think it is so. Give reasons for your statement or conclusion.