Analysing questions

sample screenshots from 'Study Skills 2.0'

Read carefully

Read any essay or exam question very carefully.

Try to understand the problem it is posing.

Note any of its key terms and instruction terms.

Identify the main issue or concept behind it.

Write out the question

Write out the question fully and accurately on your rough notes and your drafts, for the essay.

This will help you to understand what is required.

Keep re-reading the question as you work on your essay or project.

Write out the question in full on your final essay too.

Special terms

Most questions contain key terms and instruction terms.

These might sometimes be implied rather than directly stated.

‘Examine the significance of Iago’s role in Shakespeare’s Othello’

Examine here is an instruction term.

It is telling you to discuss the topic in a general manner.

Iago’s role is a key term.

It tells you to focus on this particular aspect of the play.

It is also setting a limit to the question.

Key terms are determined by the subject in question.

Instruction terms are conventions which tell you how to approach the question.

Common problems

Most common problems are caused by not reading the question carefully.

This often results in –

  • answering the wrong question
  • misunderstanding the point
  • failing to see the emphasis
  • not following the instructions


Questions are not set to catch you out or to be especially difficult.

They give you the chance to show what you
have learned on the course.

It’s true that some may be expressed in an oblique manner.

Your task may then be to ‘interpret’ the question.

If a question is very obscure or ambiguous, ask your tutor for advice.


© Mantex/Clifton Press 2008-2011

  • Study Skills 2.0 (html)Study Skills 2.0

    Study Skills covers every aspect of study skills – reading, writing, research, revision, exams, and even presentations. Learn how to absorb information quickly. Study effectively by using good time management skills. How to digest books and summarise their contents. Suitable for all students in further and higher education. Runs in any Web browser. Latest version […]

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