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business growth How to pass ABE exams – unde rstanding command words ABE’s examination reports

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How to pass ABE exams – understanding command words

ABE’s examination reports have often shown that for many students good examination technique can make the difference between a pass and a fail. Recognising the skills that the examiner is asking you to show, and correctly interpreting what the question requires of you, are fundamental parts of writing high-scoring answers. This guide to command words’ (the trigger words used by examiners to make clear to students the type of answer required) aims to help students provide higher-scoring examination answers, by explaining the meaning and requirements of command words. So in the examination take time to read the question carefully, paying special attention to the command word (s) and ask yourself ‘What does the examiner want me to do?’.

Command Words

Command words such as ‘outline’ and ‘explain’ are trigger words used by examiners to make clear to candidates the type of answer they require. Many candidates underestimate the importance of correctly interpreting what an examination question requires of them, and lose marks unnecessarily. Before you answer any question you must identify the command word used, and think carefully about how you can fulfil the task required.

Highlight/underline the key words of each question before you begin your answer, and give yourself time to organise your thoughts. For essay-type questions write a quick, concise plan. Take some time to think about exactly what each command word requires you to do, and use this, and the mark allocation, to help you determine how much time to spend on each question.

Command words test skills at different levels, and some are more demanding than others, so you should make sure that you set aside enough time to answer questions with command words that test more complex skills. Typically command words will test one or more of three key skills: knowledge and understanding, application, and analysis/evaluation.

Knowledge (primary level) This area tests your ability to recall and demonstrate an understanding of the key facts/theories/ideas outlined in the syllabus and learning outcomes of your chosen subject. Typical command words for this skill include ‘identify’, ‘list’, ‘outline’ and ‘describe’; these often require you to remember key information and show that you have assimilated and understood it.

Application (secondary, more complex level) This area tests your understanding of key concepts by asking you to apply them in different contexts. Examples of command words which test this skill include ‘Show how’, ‘Illustrate’, ‘Compare and contrast’ and ‘Apply’ (as in ‘apply theory to practice’). Most of them require the use of examples. At this level you are expected to explain and explore your ideas in more detail, and apply them to new and real-life situations.

Analysis/Evaluation (tertiary, more demanding level) This area requires a highly detailed discussion of a complex concept or issue. Candidates are often asked to weigh up different aspects of a given topic and evaluate

business growth their relative significance, or construct an argument to pr ove that one possible

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their relative significance, or construct an argument to prove that one possible option is preferable to another. Typical command words at this level include ‘Analyse’, ‘Evaluate’, ‘Critically evaluate’ and ‘Critically assess’.

When you are revising, make practising the skills at all levels a priority. At the higher levels, instead of learning facts by heart, practise applying what you have learnt to new circumstances. Keep up-to-date with current affairs, and look for topical examples in the news and media.

Most importantly, during the examination always read the question carefully, respond to the command word used, and plan your answer. Keep the marks allocated to each subsection in mind when deciding how much time to spend on each question.

Example command words for specific skill sets:

1. Knowledge / Remembering

Define: To state the meaning of, to describe the nature of. Identify / State / List / Name: To express in a few words, to enumerate, usually no description or explanation is required. Outline: To briefly describe the principal features or different parts of. Describe: To give a representation of in words, more detail is needed here than for ‘Outline’.

2. Comprehension / Understanding

Explain: To give a clear and detailed account of, to provide an understanding of, to give reasons or causes for. Discuss: To examine/consider, to produce an argument, to present in detail. Summarise: To concisely express the key features of. Compare and contrast: To highlight the similarities (compare) and differences (contrast) between two things, to examine the relative properties of two things.

3. Application

Illustrate: To clarify your answer by giving examples.

Using examples

context. Justify: To prove or show to be sound, to provide evidence for something in order to support one’s argument. Compare and contrast: To highlight the similarities (compare) and differences (contrast) between two things, to examine the relative properties of two things. Apply: To take an established theory/principle etc and employ it in particular events or scenarios.

:

To apply theory to specific examples relevant to the question’s

4. Analysis / Evaluation / Synthesising / Creating

Examine: To inspect in detail, to investigate the nature of. Analyse: To examine in detail, to explore the meaning and essential features of, to divide into component parts. Defend: To support in the face of criticism by use of an argument. Evaluate: To judge / assess the value/importance/nature of. Critically appraise / assess: To provide an evaluation of the key features of something, showing an appreciation of the subtleties involved in the issue.

business growth 5. Other skills Calculate: To solve / determine by use of mathematical processes.

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5. Other skills Calculate: To solve / determine by use of mathematical processes. Determine: To establish, to fix, to find the solution to. Produce: To create, to present.

Students should note that each command word is not necessarily restricted to the skill set under which it appears.