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Key Words On Essay Exams

Watch out for these words on essay tests. They're the most important part of the question. Know what they mean, and you'll be sure you know what kind of answer to write before you write it.

Analyze: To analyze is to look at something closely, to break it down into its components. If you are asked to analyze, chances are the question requires you to give reasons, interpret, compare, contrast, define, evaluate, and/or explain the topic.

Compare: Examine the similarities between two or more related things.

Contrast: Examine the differences between two or more related things.

Criticize: Express your informed judgment of the merits of the topic in question. Point out both good points and weaknesses. Give logical reasons; do not simply spout your opinion.

Define: To what class does the item belong? How does it differ from other items in that class? What is the item not?

Discuss: This type of question calls for a complete, detailed analysis of the item in question. Use any strategies (comparison, contrast, definition) that will help you explore the topic.

Enumerate: Concisely list all the points required by the question. (See "list.")

Evaluate: See "criticize."

Explain: Here, the aim is to clarify the conditions which gave rise to something-the "how" and "why." Focus on causes.

Illustrate: Explain your answer by providing concrete examples.

Interpret: Explain the meaning of something, based on your own informed judgment.

Justify: Present convincing evidence to prove or show grounds for your answer.

List: Do not write an essay in response to a "list" question; just concisely list the items requested in the question.

Outline: Present main points in a concise, systematic arrangement.

Relate: Emphasize connections and associations between two or more items.

State: Express the points in a brief, concise form.

Summarize: Give all the main points in a condensed form. Omit less important details and do not elaborate.

Trace: Give a description of progress, historical sequence or development from the point of origin.


Try this question for practice:

Critically trace the statement of the analyzed comparison / contrast definition.   In outline form list all enumerations and interpretations of the discussed illustrations and evaluative justifications


Good luck on test day!

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