Command words

Do your pupils know the difference between state, describe, explain, suggest, evaluate, etc?

Knowing what command words mean is important for understanding the demands of the question – however the rest of the wording in a question is just as important to read. The rest of the wording will contextualise the question and might contain key words which affect how students should answer the question.

Practical suggestions:

  1. Each subject’s exam board should have a list of command words with the definition on their website. During a practise assessment, allow pupils to have a hand-out of these command words so they can check they understand how much detail to include and plan their response accordingly. Alternatively, requisition from Katie Azubuike in Lab X a class set of key rings which present the command words in a colourful way, linking to Blooms taxonomy (see photo).

 command words

  1. Get pupils to create a booklet for younger students explaining what each command word means. (Referring back to these definitions and modelling good practice throughout the course will embed these words even further.)

Examples of command words with “pupil friendly” explanations:

  • State – Give a simple answer such as a correct term or name.
  • Describe – Give detail about what happens, where is happens and when is happens. If it is “describe a graph”, give numbers and data from the graph.
  • Explain – Give detail about how and why it happens. Use specific key terminology within the topic/subject.
  • Suggest – Come up with an idea based on what you have learnt (do not panic you may not know the answer – the examiner just wants you to apply your knowledge).