21 Common Examination Instructions Words And Its Meaning

Analyse Take apart an idea, concept or statement and examine and 

criticise its sub-parts in detail. You have to be methodical and


Assess Describe a topic’s positive and negative aspects and say

how useful or successful it is, or consider its contribution to

knowledge, events or processes (this is usually about how important

something is).

Criticise Point out a topic’s mistakes or weaknesses as well as its

favourable aspects. Give a balanced answer (this will involve some

analysis first).

Compare (or juxtapose) Put items side by side to see their similarities and

differences – a balanced (objective) answer is required. 

Contrast Emphasise the differences between two things.

Define Give the meaning of an idea, either a dictionary definition or

from an academic authority in your subject of study (technical


Describe Give details of processes, properties, events and so on.

Discuss Describe, explain, give examples, points for and against, then

analyse and evaluate the results.

Evaluate Similar to discuss, but with more emphasis on a

judgement in the conclusion.

Examine Take apart and describe a concept in great detail.

Explain Give detailed reasons for an idea, principle or result,

situation, attitude and so on. You may need to give some analysis

as well.

Illustrate Give concrete examples – including figures or diagrams.

Illustrate is usually added on to another instruction.

Interpret Explain and comment on the subject and make a judgement


Justify Give reasons to support a statement – it may be a

negative statement, so be careful!

List Provide an itemised series of parts, reasons or qualities,

possibly in a table.

Prove/disprove Provide evidence for or against and demonstrate logical

argument and reasoning – you often have to do this for

abstract or scientific subjects.

Relate Emphasise the links, connections and associations, probably

with some analysis.

Review Analyse and comment briefly, in organised sequences –

sentences, paragraphs or lists – on the main aspects of a


State Give the relevant points briefly – you don’t need

to make a lengthy discussion or give minor details.

Suggest Give possible reasons – analyse, interpret and evaluate.

(This is also the verb most commonly used to quote another


Summarise or outline Just give the main points, not the details.

Trace Give a brief description of the logical or chronological stages

of the development of a theory, process, a person’s life and

so on. Often used in historical questions.

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