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National College of Ireland


Exams guide: Exam Instruction Words

What are you being asked?

What now?

You've done your revision and you're now looking at the exam paper. Do you fully understand the instructions you're being given in the questions? The glossary of common NCI exam terms is designed to help you better understand what's required when you see these words in an exam setting.

Glossary of common NCI exam terms

Advise (on) - Provide specific advice about something

(Critically) Analyse - Discuss the main ideas/components of an idea or theory, explaining why they are important and how they’re related

(Critically) Assess - Determine the value or importance of something; identify strengths and weaknesses and draw your own conclusion

Calculate - Work out and show your workings/calculations

Comment on - State your views and opinions on the topic clearly, backing up your points with evidence and examples

Compare - List similarities (and sometimes differences) in two or more examples, perhaps reaching a conclusion about which is preferable and justifying why

Compute - Reckon or calculate (a figure or amount)

Consider - Identify advantages and disadvantages or strengths and weaknesses in argument and justify your own position and conclusion

Contrast - List points of difference between examples; set in opposition in order to clearly show the differences 

Compare and Contrast - Identify different views on a topic/subject and show both similarities and differences

Define - State the precise meaning of a word or phrase as outlined in reliable sources; in some cases it might be necessary or desirable to examine different definitions and outline limitations

Describe - Give in detail the main features or characteristics of the topic

Determine - Work out and show your workings/calculations

Differentiate/Distinguish between - Look for differences between

Discuss - Explain, giving several different views on the issue; explore similarities and differences and draw conclusions on the possible implications as well as giving your own position on the issue

(Critically) Evaluate - Make an appraisal of the importance/usefulness/accuracy of something, stressing both advantages and limitations and back this up with relevant theories or evidence

Examine - Investigate a subject/topic in detail

Explain - Make clear or plain, giving details about how and why something is the way it is, perhaps using a step by step approach

Identify - Pinpoint a fact or a figure or an example or an argument or a theoretical position

Illustrate - Make your points clearer with the use of specific examples, figures, diagrams, graphs etc.

Interpret - Outline what something means in simple terms and give your judgement or comments in relation to the issue

Justify - Present convincing evidence and reasons to support your argument and answer the main objections likely to be made about them

List - Present concise, itemised information in bullet points or table form

Outline - Give an overview of a subject in an organised way, without going into too much detail

Prepare - Make ready for use or consideration

Present - Put forward for consideration; show or display

Provide - Put forward or set down

Set Out - Outline or put in a specific arrangement

Show - Justify each step, providing a convincing argument/explanation

State - Present in a brief, clear form without too much detail or examples

Support - Back up your argument/discussion with evidence and examples