Essay questions are preferred by instructors who believe that such questions provide a better view of what students have learned about a particular subject.
While many final exams will have a combination of question types -- including true/false, multiple-choice, matching, and essay -- some tests will have only essay questions. (Ask your instructors what types of questions will be on your final exams.)
In order to answer an essay question as specifically as your instructor expects, it is important to understand the key task words used in such questions:
- ANALYZE. Divide something into its component parts and show how they work together. (The opposite of synthesize.)
- COMPARE. Identify the similarities or differences in the qualities of several things.
- CONTRAST. Describe the differences between things.
- CRITIQUE. Analyze something and form a judgement about it.
- DEFINE. Provide the meaning to a word or expression.
- DESCRIBE. Write a general sketch of something.
- DISCUSS. Explore the evidence and information about something.
- EVALUATE. Explain how something meets a standard or fulfills a specific purpose.
- EXPLAIN. Clarify why or how something has come about.
- INTERPRET. Explain the meaning of something.
- JUSTIFY. Argue in support of something.
- NARRATE. Relate the events leading up to something.
- OUTLINE. Provide the main points.
- PROVE. Offer a logical argument and supporting evidence for something.
- REVIEW. Provide a summary, sometimes with a critique, about something.
- SUMMARIZE. Write brief information about something without examples or details.
- TRACE. Compose a narrative of sequential events leading up to something.