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Understanding the assessment keywords

It is important to understand what the essay is asking you to do. Look for the key verb or verbs in the sentence. Words like 'Discuss' are asking you to answer the essay in a particular way.

Information words
Relationship words
Interpretation words

Information words

Information words ask you to explain what you know about the subject, eg who, what, when, where, how, and why.

Keywords title Meaning title
Discuss give a balanced overview of the topic, looking at all sides
Define To explain the nature or basic qualities of the subject / topic and to give it meaning its context. Sometimes you may need to give more than one meaning
Explain (why / how) give reasons why or examples of how something happened
Illustrate give descriptive examples of the subject and show how each is connected with the subject
Summarise briefly list the important ideas you learned about the subject
Research gather material from outside sources about the subject, often with the implication or requirement that you will analyse what you have found


Relationship words

Relationship words ask you to explain how things / issues are connected.

Keywords title Meaning title
Compare show how two or more things are similar (and, sometimes, different)
Apply use details that you've been given to demonstrate how an idea, theory, or concept works in a particular situation
Contrast show how two or more things are dissimilar
Relate show or describe the connections between things


Interpretation words

Interpretation words ask you to defend your ideas on a topic / subject. Your arguments need to be supported by evidence, eg examples, principles, definitions, or concepts from class or research to back up your position.

Keywords title Meaning title
Analyse Determine how individual parts create or relate to the whole, figure out how something works, what it might mean, or why it is important.
Argue Take one side of an argument and defend it with evidence against the other side
Assess Summarise your opinion of the subject and measure it against something
Evaluate State your opinion of the subject as good, bad, or some combination of the two, with examples and reasons
Justify Give reasons or examples to prove how or why something is true.
Support Give reasons or evidence for something you believe (be sure to state clearly what it is that you believe)


Brainstorming the topic



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