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Tutoring Service: Understanding the Question

Overview of the Avondale University Tutoring Service.

What type of

LEARNER

are you?

VISUAL

AUDITORY

TACTILE LEARNING TIPS

Understanding the Question

Assignment questions can be broken down into parts so that you can better understand what you are being asked to do. It is important to identify key words in the question. 

What are Key Words?

Key words are the words in an assignment question that tell you how to answer a question. Key words usually fall into three categories—task words, content words and limiting words.

Task Words

Task words tell you what to do in order to answer the question. Task words are usually verbs such as compare, discuss, and evaluate. Being able to identify and interpret a task word is important because it will determine the approach you will adopt in your assignment.

Content Words

Content words tell you what the topic areas are, and help you focus your research on the correct areas. Being able to identify and interpret a content word is important because it will determine the topic of your research. 

For example, the following assignment question requires you to:

Define health determinants, and identify and discuss four key health determinants for Indigenous Austalian children in the Northern Territory.

Here, the assignment question is asking you to focus your research on the topic area of health determinants.        

Limiting Words

Limiting Words confine the topic area by placing limits or subject-qualifiers. Limiting words help you identify the scope of the topic area you should focus on. A topic could be limited by era, location, sub-topic, or theory. Being able to identify and interpret a limiting word is important because it can help you narrow down your research and help you identify relevant and irrelevant information for your assignment.

For example, the following assignment question requires you to:

Define health determinants, and identify and discuss four key health determinants for Indigenous Austalian children in the Northern Territory.

Here, the assignment question is asking you to limit or confine your research to a number of issues: four key health determinants; Indigenous Australian children (the group); and the Northern Territory (the location).

Common Task Words

Account for

Give reasons for something

Analyse

Focus on the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of a topic. Do not simply describe or summarise. 

Compare

Find similarities and differences.

Contrast

Similar to compare, but differences should be emphasised 

Criticise

Assess the merit of something. Consider both good points and bad points and give the results of your analysis. 

Define

Give precise meanings with key details.  

Describe

Recall specific details about size, cost, texture, appearance etc.

Discuss

Present a point of view after considering both sides of an issue or question.

Evaluate

Consider both strengths and weaknesses and make a judgement. 

Explain

Relate how something happens in the order in which it occurs, or, clarify reasons, causes and effects.   

Interpret

Express in your own words. 

List

Write your answer as an itemised series which may be in point form.

Outline

Provide main points and leave out minor details.

Relate

Tell the story in a clear sequence, or, show how things are connected/similar to each other. 

Review

Examine a subject critically, analysing and commenting on the main points.

State

Present the main points in a brief, clear sequence.

Summarise

Give the main points or facts in condensed form.

To What Extent    

Consider both sides, make a judgment and defend it. Similar to Evaluate or Discuss.