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Understanding and decoding the title


Essay titles include one or more words that give you exact instructions as to what the marker is looking for. They indicate what you need to demonstrate in order to answer the question. These are typically words like discuss and examine. They indicate what skills you need to demonstrate in order to answer the question successfully.

Command words

Instruction words that tell you what to do, such as describe, discuss, identify, assess and explain.

Understand command words:

Justify - Support (with facts/figures/examples)

Examine - investigate closely, ask questions of

Summarise - Sum up the main points

Compare - Explain the similarities and differences

Criticise - Identify problems/disadvantages

Discuss - Debate the issue from different standpoints

Contrast - Explain the difference between

Prove - demonstrate, make certain

Describe - give a concise statement of meaning and/or identify the main characteristics

Evaluate - Weigh up the strengths and weaknesses

Key words

Tell you what your answer should be about. They are often technical words used in the subject that you are writing on.

It may be appropriate to briefly define what these key words mean so that you have a clear understanding of what you need to write about. Once you know what to look for you can move on to break down the question.


Essays are usually testing:

  1. 1Your knowledge and understanding
  2. 2Your ability to interpret or work out the reasons for something
  3. 3Your ability to evaluate, make judgements and assess the value of different ideas

Tip: In the exam use two different coloured highlighters to indentify commands and key words quickly