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How to answer exam questions

If you were to ask an examiner the most common reason why some students do poorly on exams, it is likely that he/she would say that “students just don’t answer the question”. While there are different ways of ‘not answering the question’, it is more often the case that students misinterpret the command words in the exam questions. Every exam question will use one or more command words. These command words tell you what the examiner is asking you to do and give you guidance on how you should answer the question. If the question has two command words, this means that you are being asked to do two specific things; if you only respond to one command word then you would not be awarded full marks as the marks available would have been split between the two things that are required in order to answer it.

Attached is a list of command words along with the approach that you should take when answering exam questions that use these words. Having a good understanding of how to answer questions based on the command word will certainly help you to avoid falling into the trap of not answering the question.