How to pass any Examination: Understanding the Action Words commonly used in Examination Questions 1

Action Words in Examination Questions
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Preparing for, writing and passing any examination at any level is never an easy task. That is what makes every effort in this direction to be worthwhile. After adequate reading comes the day on which the examination is set before you and you are to write and pass. How you will go about ensuring success in the written exams is a big deal also. One of the surest ways is to avoid certain avoidable mistakes that students often commit during written examinations and tests.
One of the most common but avoidable mistakes that people make in examination halls is failing to read the question properly. Some read but fail to pay appropriate attention to the action words in the questions, which determine what is to be their answers. You may wave this off as such an obvious point but, as an examiner, I can categorically tell you that this error or mistake forms the foundation of many failures! So, understanding the question, I may say, is fifty percent of the answer.
I have never seen or heard of any examination for which no hints or instructions are not stated as to what the person writing the examination should do. In most cases, all you have to do is to read, understand and apply the clues. Remember every question has an expected answer and you just have to learn to provide the examiners with the exact information being asked of you. To be able to do this, it is important to identify the command word or action verb within each question, as this will give you an indication of the depth of knowledge and information required in your answer.
Although you may have spent time, energy and resources to revise all your subject content and collect the necessary materials needed for your examination, you can still fail except you know exactly what each question is asking you to do. When answering an exam question, it’s easy to misread what is being asked and simply answer it in the wrong way. The argument and points raised in your answers may be logical, thoughtful and well researched, but if they do not adequately align with the question and the expected answer, you stand to lose some serious marks. This is why some people get stunned when the result come out and their performance is not as they expected.
In a way to help our readers to pass any examination they may have to write anytime from now, we put together this article on some action words commonly used in examination questions. We will also go ahead to examine them with a view to helping people understand what they mean in questions and what the possible answers would be like. So, sit tight. Read. Learn. Apply and excel in all your future examinations.

Action or Command Words in Examination Questions and their Meanings

Command or actions words are instructions for how to answer examination question. Put differently, they are the words and phrases used in examinations and other assessment tasks to tell students how they should answer the questions. So, it is important you know the meanings of these words and what you should do when you come across them in your examinations. Where possible, we will draft sample questions to illustrate how they are used in questions. Please note that this article is not exhaustive.
The commonly used command or action words in examination questions include:


It means to break down the content of a topic, or issue, into its constituent elements in order to provide an indepth account and convey an understanding of it. With this action word, you can also be expected to break down the subject matter into its component parts and examine their relationships.
Example Question
Analyse the data presented in the table below and suggest reasons for the differential satisfaction levels of the respondents on the sharing of the COVID-19 palliative materials in the state.


This requires you to add a number of words to a diagram or an image that describe and/or explain the features of the image or diagram. It is more involving than mere identifying the features (which is labelling).


Apply, as an examination action word, requires the use an abstraction to explain a concrete situation. Your answer to such question should sufficiently show how an abstract idea, concept, principle, model or method explains a concrete situation or solves a given problem.


When this is used in a question, you are to consider several options or arguments and weigh them up so as to come to an objective conclusion about their effectiveness or validity. In other words, you are expected to present judgments of possible relevant factors and their importance or significance in the issue or situation at hand. Sometimes it comes as, “Critically Assess”….
The above requires you to carry out an examination of a given issue from the point of view of a critic. This means you tackle the issue at stake with a particular focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the points of view you are expressing.
Example Question
Assess the possible economic benefits of the proposed new stadium in the state and advise the governor appropriately.


This is a call to carry out a mathematical process. Depending on the level of the examination, always remember the importance of showing your working in details except there is a contrary instruction.
Example Question
Using the data in the table, calculate the total volume of petrol used if the lorry makes five trips to the same destination in a day.


Comment, as an action word in any examination question, requires you to give a justified opinion or personal view on an issue. Here, you can criticize, discuss, evaluate, explain, or illustrate the meaning of something and its implications.
Example Question
Comment on the long established pattern of trade between the northern and southern parts of Nigeria.

Compare and Contrast

By the use of these two examination action words, you are to do two things here. To compare means to identify the similarities while to contrast means to identify the differences between the subjects, persons, ideas, objects and so on. In comparing and contrasting, your answer must cross-reference between these two sides. You do not just write two completely separate descriptions as doing this will be far from answering the question.
Example Question
Compare and contrast weather and climate.
The part one of this article ends here. Only a few action words were covered. Kindly check out the Part Two for more of the command or action words commonly used in examination questions and their meanings.

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