Exam Questions Keywords and What They Really Mean

There are a lot of different ways in which exam questions can be worded. During an exam make sure to first read the question carefully and highlight the keywords. Make a quick spider diagram or a bullet point list for yourself to help you plan the question. How the question is asked will impact what type of answer you will give. Below is a list of the most common exam question keywords and what they really mean.



Write about two or more things while pointing out their differences and similarities.


Write about characteristics and facts in detail. Think of what, how, when and where.


Write about the issues related to the topic. Cover the opposing sides of the debate, facts and differences between existing opinions.


Suggest a rough value based and show how you got there based on the knowledge you have on the topic. Do not perform a calculation.


Whereas ‘describe’ asks for the what, how and where, ‘explains’ asks for the why. Your answer should detail the reason why and how something happened.


With this type of question, you will be given some information like facts or data. You will need to provide your own opinions about this and draw your own conclusion.




Here, you will be asked to provide an answer and give some evidence or an explanation why you chose your specific answer.


This asks for key facts about a topic or key steps in a process. Write them down in the correct order.


In this case you will also be given some data to suggest an answer. Unlike with ‘estimate’ you may use a calculation to help but also back your answer with your knowledge of the topic.


This is similar to ‘justify’ except you will usually be given an answer. You will need to write down the details or calculations in order to prove that the given answer is right or wrong.


In this case you may not know the answer but are asked to use your knowledge and apply it in a new context to come up with a possible answer.

Write down

Give a short answer without a supporting argument.


Knowing these words will make it easier for you to plan and answer questions more directly. This will help you get your desired grade in your Christmas exams and later your junior cycle or leaving cert exams.


Exam Questions Keywords and What They Really Mean
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