What Are Examiners Looking for When They Pose Essay Questions That Ask
Aug 12, 2011 Writing 1920 Views
Answering exam questions, essay questions or questions set as part of a dissertation or thesis completion can be difficult to decipher. One of the most common errors students make when it comes to answering an essay or examination question is they don't take note of what it is the question is actually asking them to do. Instead they focus on the subject matter that the question revolves around, and they almost do a 'brain dump' of all of the information they know about that particular subject matter. Whilst this may demonstrate to your examiner or tutor that you have a good knowledge base of a particular subject, it isn't a strategy that will gain you very many marks. For good essay and exam marks are awarded to students who use their knowledge of a particular subject area to coherently answer a question, not to those who simply list everything they know about a specific subject.
All very well and good you might think, but how exactly do you utilise your knowledge of a subject matter to fully answer an exam or essay question? How are you supposed to know what it is the examiner or your tutor is looking for when they create essay questions for you to respond to? Ultimately you don't...each tutor, teacher and examiner is different and they will have their own individual take on what sort of information should be included in a perfect essay question response. Fortunately there are marking criteria available that help teachers get over this subjective response to an exam or essay response, thereby ensuring that all students are subjected to the same marking requirements. So the next question then is how do you know what it is that the overarching marking criteria is looking for in a strong response to an exam or essay question? And the clue is often in the construction of the question posed.
Generally exam questions will ask you to do one of a finite number of things:
- Compare and contrast 2 or more events, books, points of view, ideas, etc
- Explain why an event took place or why a particular viewpoint is held
- Explain how an event came about, or how something was achieved
- Analyse the motive for a particular event, a book, a piece of music, a specific activity
- Test a particular hypothesis, argument or idea
When it comes to GCSE, A' Level and Undergraduate Degree level exam or essay questions, one of the most popular forms of questions posed is that of the 'compare and contrast' variety!
So, if you are faced with a 'compare and contrast' question, what sort of thing is the examiner or the marker of your response looking for?
- They will want you to acknowledge and explain or describe each of the entities that you have been asked to compare and contrast. This could be anything from three books, two events in history, or two composers.
- They will want to see that you have listed the key qualities of each of the entities that you are comparing and contrasting.
- Importantly, they will then be looking for you to say how each of the entities that you are reviewing are the same as one another, AND, how each of them differ from one another.
- If you are comparing three or more entities, you should look to see if two or more of these entities are particularly similar, with one or more less so
- They will want you to form an opinion as to why these entities are similar or dissimilar