Examination is a common method of assessment at university and requires careful planning and good quality preparation. Developing critical thinking and writing skills are also necessary to demonstrate your ability to understand and answer questions. It is also important that before you begin answering questions you spend sufficient time understanding all the requirements.

Seek clarification from your lecturer if you are still unsure about how to begin your answer. There are different methods of presenting a question in a university and differ greatly from O level questions. These words can typically be found in your university question.

In University Examination Question, What Does It Mean To:

Account for: Give reasons for or explain why something has occurred. This task directs you to consider contributing factors to a certain situation or event. You are expected to make a decision about why these occurred, not just describe the events.

Consider the different elements of a concept, statement or situation. Show the different components and show how they connect or relate. Your structure and argument should be logical and methodical.

Make a judgement on a topic or idea. Consider its reliability, truth and usefulness. In your judgement, consider both the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing arguments to determine your topic’s worth (similar to evaluate).

Divide your topic into categories or sub-topics logically (could possibly be part of a more complex task)

Comment on:
State your opinion on an issue or idea. You may explain the issue or idea in more detail. Be objective and support your opinion with reliable evidence.

Compare Or Compare And Contrast:
Show the similarities and differences between two or more ideas, theories, systems, arguments or events. You are expected to provide a balanced response, highlighting similarities and differences.

Point out only the differences between two or more ideas, theories, systems, arguments or events.

It does not mean to criticise, instead, you are required to give a balanced account, highlighting strengths and weaknesses about the topic. Your overall judgment must be supported by reliable evidence and your interpretation of that evidence.

Provide a precise meaning of a concept. You may need to include the limits or scope of the concept within a given context.

Provide a thorough description, emphasising the most important points. Use words to show appearance, function, process, events or systems. You are not required to make judgements.

Highlight the differences between two (possibly confusing) items.

Provide an analysis of a topic. Use evidence to support your argument. Be logical and include different perspectives on the topic (This requires more than a description).

Review both positive and negative aspects of a topic. You may need to provide an overall judgement regarding the value or usefulness of the topic. Evidence (referencing) must be included to support your writing
For example: Evaluate the impact of inclusive early childhood education programs on subsequent high school completion rates for First Nations students.

Describe and clarify the situation or topic. Depending on your discipline area and topic, this may include processes, pathways, cause and effect, impact, or outcomes

Clarify a point or argument with examples and evidence.
For example: Illustrate how society’s attitudes to disability have changed from a medical model to a holistic model of disability.

Briefly Comment:
Treat it as a mini-essay – have a sentence or two to introduce your topic; select a few points to discuss with a sentence or two about each; add a concluding sentence that sums up your overall view.

Give evidence that supports an argument or idea; show why a decision or conclusions were made. Justify may be used with other topic words, such as outline, argue.

A comprehensive description of the situation or topic that provides a critical analysis of the key issues.

An overview or brief description of a topic. (This is likely to be part of a larger assessment task.) Summarise the process for calculating the correct load for a plane

Essay/Theory Questions:
Essay questions ask you to explain, discuss and expand on a topic and are usually several paragraphs long. This question requires you to think about what the question is actually asking. What are you expected to include in your answer? Are references required?

  • Make a Plan! Take a few minutes to think and plan:
  • Underline the keywords in the question.
  • Identify the main topic and discussion areas.
  • Choose a few points/arguments about which you can write.
  • Make a mini-plan that puts them in order before you start writing. You can cross it through afterwards.


What to do if your mind goes blank?

  • Put your pen down, take a deep breath, sit back and relax for a moment. If you’re in the middle of an answer, read through what you have written so far – what happens next? If you have to remember formulae, try associating them with pictures or music while revising. If you really can’t progress with this answer, leave a gap. It will probably come back to you once you are less anxious.
  • To overcome mind blanks – stop thinking about how to answer; pause and try to gather your thoughts. Instead of looking down at your exam paper, lookup. Looking up instead of down has been shown to improve the ability to recall information.

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