Beware of These Tricky Words on Essay Exams

Ive taken tons of essay exams as an undergraduate and graduate student.

And one of the keys to answering the essay question successfully is to fully understand the question.

I know that sounds obvious, but youd be surprised how many students skim the essay question and start writing without paying close attention to the words. And thats a sure way to get yourself into trouble.

You see, your professor has spent time crafting the essay question. And he or she has used certain words to identify exactly what sort of answer you should provide.

Here are some common words used in essay questions that should signal to you how to respond:

Analyze
Discuss, examine, and interpret what you know about the subject. Back up your opinion with facts.

Compare
Examine two or more things and identify the similarities and differences.

Contrast
Show the differences.

Criticize
Criticism not only means giving your opinion, but it also means discussing and examining what you know about it.

Define
Explain the exact meaning of whatever is being asked. Be specific.

Describe
List the characteristics and break everything down into parts.

Discuss
This keyword is often thrown into essay questions all the time. This word entails: debating the pros and cons; comparing and contrasting; giving a detailed account

Explain
Make the idea understandable. Simplify and show your Prof that you really know this subject well.

Prove
Become a lawyer and argue your case well with facts. Think of objections and shoot them down.

Relate
Reveal how the ideas connects to a larger theme

State
Explain well

Summarize
Give a concise account of the subject

Trace
Provide an order of events for a particular subject or event

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