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ABE’s examination reports often show that for many students good examination technique can make the difference between a pass and a fail. Recognising the skills that the examiner is asking you to demonstrate, and correctly interpreting what the question requires of you, are fundamental to writing high-scoring answers. This guide to command words aims to help you achieve this aim.

What is a command word? Each question contains one or more command words. They are words designed to trigger the kind of answer the examiner is looking for. Command words are there to help you. If you pay attention to them, you are likely to write a better answer. Examples of command words include: ‘outline’, ‘describe’, ‘explain’, ‘discuss’, ‘give examples’, etc.

Hints n Read each question carefully. n Underline all the command words in the question.

n Ask yourself: What does the examiner want me to do? And make sure you write the kind of answer the examiner is looking for.

n Look at the number of marks allocated to each sub-question. This should help you decide how much time to spend on each part of the question.

n Plan how you are going to answer the question and tick off each item when you have completed it.

n Make sure that your answer covers all the command words used in the question.

Command word Analyse


Assess/appraise Calculate/solve

Choose/select an organisation with which you are familiar

Compare and contrast Define

Describe Determine Discuss Evaluate

Examine Explain

Explain how Explain why Identify/state Illustrate Justify


Produce Suggest

Summarise Use a diagram… Type of answer

Examine something in detail in order to discover meaning, essential features, problems, etc.

Put to practical use/explain how something (e.g. a theory) could be used in the world of work or business.

Judge the worth or importance of something. Solve one or more problems using a mathematical process.

Think of an organisation that you know well enough to write about in your answer. Note the name of the organisation and a few details about it so that the examiner can understand the context of your answer. Make sure that your answer relates directly to things you know about the organisation, giving clear examples wherever possible.

Find the similarities and differences between two or more things. State precisely the meaning of a given word, term or phrase. Give an account or representation of something in words.

Decide or make a judgement on the best response/course of action/ solution to a given situation. OR Solve a mathematical problem.

Consider a subject/issue and possible solutions/approaches/ methods in your answer.

Judge or assess the worth/importance of something. OR Work out given sum(s) or mathematical problem(s).

Look at or inspect something in detail.

Review, make something comprehensible giving a clear and detailed account of its relevant structure/operation/circumstances, etc.

The way in which something happens/operates. The reason(s) for something happening.

List and name the main elements of something. Clarify or explain using examples or analogy.

Support your answer; give reasons for your opinion/choices. Give the main features or general idea of something.

Write your answer in the form of a business document as specified by the question e.g. report, email, formal letter, balance sheet.

Put forward a possible plan or idea(s) in response to a given situation. State the main ideas/elements of something.

Draw a diagram in your answer and make sure that it is clearly labelled. If there is more to the question, e.g. ‘use a diagram to explain…’, you should go on to write an explanation and make sure it is clear how the diagram fits in with your explanation.

Using examples… With reference to…

You should include in your answer examples that are directly relevant to the question. This enables you to demonstrate that you understand that what you are writing about is related to business/real life.

Mention the text/theory/argument used in the question in your answer; make sure it is a key part of your response throughout.

Each question contains one or more command words. They are words designed to trigger the kind of answer the examiner is looking for

Explanation of command words that are often seen in ABE examinations

The list above does not contain every command word that you could come across, but it provides explanations for some of the more common ones.

The table will help you to identify exactly what the examiner requires in different types of answer, but most importantly, during the examination,

make sure that you:

n Always read the question carefully. n Respond to each command word used in the appropriate way.

n Keep in mind the number of marks allocated to each part of a question.

n Plan your answer accordingly. n Answer all parts of the question.

Good luck! studentfocus A MAGAZINE FOR ABE STUDENTS | MAY 2011 | PAGE 11

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