Understanding Exam Questions and Assignment Titles

Exam questions and assignments can be worded in many different ways, and as a student you will need to write on a huge variety of topics, often with a confusing range of instructions.  If you are unclear about the terminology used in exams and assignments, it is easy to lose marks in assignments and exams for not focusing on the question correctly.  This glossary of terms will help you to understand what is being asked of you, but you should never be afraid to ask your tutor or professor for clarification if you do not fully understand the question.  Bear in mind that s/he set the assignment to assess your knowledge on the subject, not to assess whether or not you know how to answer assignments.

Word/Phrase Used

What is Required

Account for

Give an explanation of why something is the way it is.


Explain the various parts of something to explain how (or if) they work together, supplying points for and against.


Use the facts given to make your point.


Evaluate or give an opinion of the nature or quality of something, weighing up the pros and cons.


Make clearer, and if appropriate, explain it in simpler terms.


Write a description of the similarities between two or more things.


Write a description of the differences between two or more things.


Give your opinion, supported by appropriate evidence from external sources or personal experience. Include views contrary to your own and show how they relate to your views.

Comment on

Select the main points and give your opinion, supporting this with relevant evidence from your wider reading.

Compare and Contrast

Write a description of first the similarities, and then the differences between two or more things.


Make something new from the given facts.

Critically evaluate

Give your opinion on the validity of a statement or findings in a body of research, demonstrating the extent of your agreement with them. Support this with a range of evidence for and against. Justify your conclusion based on the most significant factors.


Write a short paragraph explaining in precise language the meaning of X.


Show how, using relevant examples.


Write a detailed account on the given topic.


Give an account of the different opinions you have read about on the subject, giving points for and against and drawing your own conclusion from the points presented.

Elaborate on

Write about the statement or quotation given in the question in more detail, and give your own opinion on this


Write your opinion, supporting this with appropriate evidence, on the significance, value or worth of something.

Evaluate the validity of [i.e. a statement]

Very similar to the above, but the given statement is probably not accurate. You should explain why it is wrong, finishing with your own opinion.


Explore each part of the statement or argument in careful detail.


Write about the precise meaning of something, making it clearer.


Taking an investigative approach, consider different viewpoints; aim to reconcile conflicting views, giving a final line of argument.

Give an account of

Give an ordered, detailed account in report form.


Decide what the key points are and write about their implications.


Show your understanding of the issue/topic by examining any significant patterns and contributing relationships.


Present evidence to support your ideas and viewpoints. This should be a balanced argument, taking into consideration opinions which may conflict with your own, before reaching your conclusion.


Present a group of items in the order required, and without commenting unless asked to do so.


Describe the main points only.

Relate X to Y

Present the connections between two things, discussing the similarities and differences.


Examine the subject in detail.  Make a critical assessment rather than offering just a description.

Show how

Give a logical presentation of reasons and causes for something.


Referring to evidence, give a clear and concise explanation of key points.


Put forward a theory and support this by showing how it could work.


Present the main facts, omitting unnecessary detail and keeping examples brief.


Follow the development of something in a logical way from its starting point.

To what extent does…

Present an argument by thoroughly assessing the evidence, and exploring alternative explanations if these exist.


Demonstrate your knowledge by explaining the facts.

Another form of essay/exam question not included in the above table, but in common practice is to offer a statement or quotation, which itself poses a question.  In this case, you should relate your answer directly to the title, exploring the statement/quotation from all angles, before offering your conclusion.

If you have any difficulty understanding your assignment titles and are unable to seek help from your tutor, remember that to fulfil our mission of educating students, our homework help center is standing by 24/7, ready to assist students who need study help with their assignments and exam preparation.


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