Essay Exam Terms

When taking an exam the first thing you should do is familiarize yourself with all instructions. At times this can be confusing especially if you do not understand the terms. Below you will find some common terms used on essay exams. Learning these terms is a key step in successful completion of most essay exams.

  • Compare (also Compare with): Discuss the similarities between two or more given subjects.
  • Contrast: Discuss the differences in two or more given subjects.
  • Criticise: Explain the value of a finding or theory. Include both negative and positive aspects based on implementation. This could be the ease of which it is applied, examples of false findings, etc…
  • Define: Describe precisely a term’s meaning as it applies specifically to a given subject.
  • Describe: Use exact detail to explain a given term. This may call for the use of examples, definitions, or discussion of the term.
  • Diagram: Use a visual representation of relevant information to explain implementation of a term. This usually calls for an explicit chart or graph which is thoroughly labelled. In some cases it may call for a detailed plan as well.
  • Discuss: The literal meaning of discuss is talk about. To do this in an exam you must thoroughly explain your subject with words.
  • Enumerate: Form a list of relevant points and explain each point. This may result in an outline like answer.
  • Evaluate: Discuss the pros and cons of the application of your given subject from a professional point of view. This differs from criticize because personal opinion should be avoided unless instructions specify otherwise.
  • Explain: Define the given material and give examples of how and why it is important to the subject.
  • Illustrate: Use a visual aid or a clearly defined example to explain a given subject.
  • Interpret: Explain the given question, include you personal feelings on the subject as well as a solution.
  • Justify: Use factual information to argue you view of the situation presented in a given problem.
  • List: Brief but thorough list of information that explains the given topic.
  • Outline: much like writing an outline for a paper. Answer the question by creating an outline that highlights the main ideas and key points of those ideas.
  • Prove: Discuss the topic in a way that readers are convinced to support or reject the idea discussed. This is done through presentation of facts or the step by step illustration of logical thinking.
  • Relate: Discuss the connection between two or more events, people, problems, etc…
  • Review: Close examination of a problem accompanied by brief comments that explain the main points.
  • State (also Give, Specify, or Present): Explain the major points of a subject in brief for. There is typically no need for further explanation.
  • Summarise: Create a brief description that highlights the major points of your subject.
  • Trace: Explain the progress of the given subject from conception to current date. Highlight anything that is considered a major topic as well as the reason for any changes.