Glendale Community College

Words used in Essay Examinations

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Words Used in Essay Exams


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In order to write good answers to an essay question, a background knowledge of the subject matter is not sufficient. A student must have a clear understanding of the directive words. A paper must answer the question that is asked.

Words frequently used in essay examinations:

COMPARE Bring out points of similarity and points of difference.
CONTRAST Bring out points of difference.
CRITICIZE Criticize may approve or disapprove. State your opinion on the merits of the issue or item.
DEFINE Give the meaning of a word or concept.
DESCRIBE Write a word picture; give an account of; tell about.
EXPLAIN Interpret; tell "how" to do; tell the meaning of.
EVALUATE Give the good points and the bad ones; talk about advantages and limitations.
ILLUSTRATE Use a word picture, a chart, a diagram, or a concrete example to clarify a point.
INTERPRET Give your thinking about the subject; translate; give the meaning of.
JUSTIFY Present facts to support your position; give your evidence. Show good reasons for.
PROVE Establish the truth of something by giving logical reasons or factual evidence.
SUMMARIZE Give the main points briefly.
TRACE Give a description of progress; follow the course of.

Page maintained by: Marla DeSoto  Revised 11/2/2006
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English Department at Glendale Community College