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Glossary of Exam Terms

glossary

The most important thing to do when you first open you exam booklet is to read all the questions and try to understand what they are asking of you. This glossary contains many of the exam terms most often used in essay titles:

  • Compare
    Examine qualities, or characteristics, to discover resemblances. "Compare" is usually stated as "compare with": you are to emphasise similarities, although differences may be mentioned.
  • Contrast
    Stress dissimilarities, differences, or unlikeness of things, qualities, events, or problems.
  • Criticise
    Express your judgment or correctness or merit. Discuss the limitations and good points or contributions of the plan or work in question.
  • Define
    Definitions call for concise, clear, authoritative meanings. Details are not required but limitations of the definition should be briefly cited. You must keep in mind the class to which a thing belongs and whatever differentiates the particular object from all others in the class.
  • Describe
    In a descriptive answer you should recount, characterize, sketch or relate in narrative form.
  • Diagram
    For a question which specifies a diagram you should present a drawing, chart, plan, or graphic representation in your answer. Generally you are expected to label the diagram and in some cases add a brief explanation or description.
  • Discuss
    The term discuss, which appears often in essay questions, directs you to examine, analyse carefully, and present considerations pro and con regarding the problems or items involved. This type of question calls for a complete and entailed answer.
  • Enumerate
    The word enumerate specifies a list or outline form of reply. In such questions you should recount, one by one, in concise form, the points required.
  • Evaluate
    In an evaluation question you are expected to present a careful appraisal of the problem stressing both advantages and limitations. Evaluation implies authoritative and, to a lesser degree, personal appraisal of both contributions and limitations.
  • Explain
    In explanatory answers it is imperative that you clarify and interpret the material you present. In such an answer it is best to state the "how or why," reconcile any differences in opinion or experimental results, and, where possible, state causes. The aim is to make plain the conditions which give rise to whatever you are examining.
  • Illustrate
    A question which asks you to illustrate usually requires you to explain or clarify your answer to the problem by presenting a figure, picture, diagram, or concrete example.
  • Interpret
    An interpretation question is similar to one requiring explanation. You are expected to translate, exemplify, solve, or comment upon the subject and usually to give your judgment or reaction to the problem.
  • Justify
    When you are instructed to justify your answer you must prove or show grounds for decisions. In such an answer, evidence should be presented in convincing form.
  • List
    Listing is similar to enumeration. You are expected in such questions to present an itemised series or tabulation. Such answers should always be given in concise form.
  • Outline
    An outline answer is organized description. You should give main points and essential supplementary materials, omitting minor details, and present the information in a systematic arrangement or classification.
  • Prove
    A question which requires proof is one which demands confirmation or verification. In such discussions you should establish something with certainty by evaluating and citing experimental evidence or by logical reasoning.
  • Relate
    In a question which asks you to show the relationship or to relate, your answer should emphasise connections and associations in descriptive form.
  • Review
    A review specifies a critical examination. You should analyse and comment briefly in organised sequence upon the major points of the problem.
  • State
    In questions which direct you to specify, give, state, or present, you are called upon to express the high points in brief, clear narrative form. Details, and usually illustrations or examples, may be omitted.
  • Summarise
    When you are asked to summarise or present a summarisation, you should give in condensed form the main points or facts. All details, illustrations and elaboration are to be omitted.
  • Trace
    When a question asks you to trace a course of events, you are to give a description of progress, historical sequence, or development from the point of origin. Such narratives may call for probing or for deduction.

Modified and adapted from: Communication Skills Development Center, University of South Carolina.