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You should know what you are being asked for. e.g. If a question asks ‘Why' then do not give an answer which says only ‘How'. What you will see below is my idea of what common question types are asking for. If you can obtain an examiners' review of a previous year's exams then you will get a clearer idea of how students fail to answer the questions asked.

‘Compare' is often written in questions. You then say what the similarities and differences between things are. But ‘Contrast' in a question just requires the differences.

‘Describe' does not mean the same as ‘Define' since definition says what something is (its essential qualities and quantities) whereas describe says what qualities and quantities something has regardless of whether they are essential to its definition.

‘Explain' might mean ‘explain how' or ‘explain why' - depending on the context.

‘Justify' or ‘Why' call for reasons.

‘Discuss' calls for two sides of the argument for and against something.

Bear in mind the different question slants that the examiner might choose from. If you essay plan resembles a 'Discuss' type of answer but the question asks you to explain something then you are not giving an answer to the question that was asked.

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