While most students are eating watermelon on the beach or near the swimming pool, others are sweating on an exam or need to catch up on schoolwork during the summer. Life is hard.
What are some typical exam terms and phrases?
You will find the same words in almost any exam.
First a little test:
Decide whether the following two terms mean the same or not:
1 Describe – Examine same/not the same
2 Explain – Describe same/not the same
3 Discuss – Give your opinion same/not the same
4 Determine – Compare same/not the same
5 Evaluate – Summarize same/not the same
6 Illustrate – Give an example same/not the same
7 Examine – Give reasons same/not the same
8 Evaluate – Give arguments same/not the same
9 Justify – Support your arguments – Give proof same/not the same
10 Assess – Rank these answers from 1 to 5 same/not the same
1 Describe – Examine not the same
Describe means to give details, and examine means to look at something more closely, usually to find the answer to a problem.
2 Explain – Describe not the same
Explain is to give a reason for something, and describe is more generally to tell about something.
3 Discuss – Give your opinion not the same
Discuss usually means giving arguments for and against an issue (why something is good or why it could be bad), whereas if you give your opinion it could mean you argue only one side of an issue.
4 Determine – Compare not the same
Determine means to decide about something, whereas compare is to look at two things to see whether and how much they are the same or different.
5 Evaluate – Summarize not the same
Evaluate means to examine the merit of something, or how valuable something is. Summarize is to tell in short.
6 Illustrate – Give an example same
7 Examine – Give reasons not the same
Examine means to look at something more closely, usually to find the answer to a problem. Give reasons is to tell why you think something is the case.
8 Evaluate – Give arguments not the same
Evaluate means to look at both sides of an argument. When you give arguments for an issue, it means you give reasons why you think something is the case.
9 Justify – Support your arguments – Give proof same
10 Assess – Rank these answers from 1 to 5 almost the same
Assess is the same as evaluate, to examine how good or valuable something is. Ranking is the same, but with different possibilities that you have to put in a certain order, say from good to bad.
Some other terms that are used a lot
What’s the purpose of this text?
The purpose means the reason it was written. What does the writer want to tell us?
What’s the main purpose of this text?
The text can have more than one purpose. For instance a text about rubbish can start with an introduction which sketches a short history of how people dealt with rubbish in the past until now. And then the rest of the article can be about what we should do to diminish (= make smaller) our waste deposits now. Several examples of good and bad ways to deal with waste are given. This text will mainly deal with an examination of what the best way is to deal with rubbish. So that’s the main purpose.
To what extent do you agree with Mr X’s theory that is mentioned in the text?
To what extent means how much of something, or how far. In the example the issue is how much you agree with something that is said in the text. The question could also be: To what extent has Mr X’s theory been proven? Or to what extent is it true that colour blindness is inherited?
What does this or that word in line 13 refer to?
“Refer to” means about what is it talking. Let’s say you’ll read a text like this: “Putting a scary picture of a person with lung cancer doesn’t help convince people to quit smoking. On the other hand, raising the prices of tobacco does.” And the question is: what is “does” referring to? Answer: to help convince people to quit smoking.
Another example: “Braces are worn a lot by teenagers and adults to straighten their teeth. However, if you’re lucky enough to have teeth that emerge in a perfect line, you won’t need them.”
Question: what does “them” refer to? Answer: to braces.
What can you infer from lines 5 and 6?
Infer means read between the lines. So you’re looking for information that is not literally given in the text, but that you can understand when you think logically. Let’s give an example. Let’s say you read the following: “Helena wanted to be treated only by a female doctor, because that made her more comfortable. Her doctor told her she should drink less coffee.” What can you infer about Helena’s doctor? That she is a woman.
Another example: The swimming pool is open from 7 am to noon. Yoshi and Anton went swimming. What can you infer from this? That it is sometime between 7 o’clock and noon.
It’s also possible to infer things from information that is not written in a text. For instance, if archeologists dig up antique human bones and they find DNA of a certain grain in the same place, they can infer that this person used to eat this kind of grain.
Don’t mix up infer and refer!
What are the implications of Ms Y’s proposal to change our education system?
= What does Ms Y’s proposal mean for the future of our education system? Or: What are the consequences of Ms Y’s proposal?
Most importantly for exam questions, do answer the question! Many students think that the longer answer they give the better it is. Not true! Your examiner will only look for relevance and will judge the contents of your answer. It doesn’t help either if you repeat yourself, but in slightly different words. Don’t give more facts than asked for and don’t add your own opinion when nobody asked for it. And vice versa: don’t give only facts when you’re being asked for your opinion. You will gain points for answering the question, but lose points for giving information that is irrelevant.
Now you can do a quiz to test your knowledge.
Click here to go to the online quiz.