Question Analysis

Use this guide to vocabulary to better understand what teachers are asking for in their assignments.

I. Information questions ask for nothing more than information and are the most direct way to find out how much someone knows about a reading.

A. Define: Give the exact meaning of the topic. How is it different from everything else of its type?
Example: Define Marx’s concept of alienated labor.

B. Describe, discuss: Tell what happened or what the topic is. Concentrate only on primary or most important features.
Example: Describe the conditions on the ships that brought slaves to America and discuss one rebellion that took place on a slave ship.

C. Explain why: Tell the main reason why the topic happened or happens.
Example: Explain why the ocean tides are not at the same time every night and why they are not always the same height.

D. Illustrate: Give one or more examples of the topic, relating each to the topic.
Example: Primitive tribes usually have rigid family systems. Illustrate this point, using one of the tribes studied this semester.

E. Relate: Show how the topic has an effect on something else; the connection(s) between two things.
Example: Relate the evolution of the horse to the changes in its environment.

F. Summarize: To give all the main points of a topic; to reduce it without changing it.
Example: Summarize Galileo’s main discoveries.

G. Trace: Give a series of important steps in the development of a historical event or a process or any sequence of happenings.
Example: Trace the events that led up to the Civil War.

H. Compare: Show how two things are both alike and different.
Example: Give two examples of biological polymers and compare them.

I. Contrast: Show only the differences between two things.
Example: Contrast the scultpture of Renaissance Italy with that of Baroque France.


II. Questions of application and speculation are among the most difficult questions because they ask you to apply what you know to solve a problem.

A. Agree or disagree: Give your opinion about a topic, expressing either a positive or negative opinion. Support your opinion from appropriate sources.
Example: The first six months of a child’s life are the most important period in its emotional development. Agree or disagree.

B. Analyze: Break down the topic into its parts and explain how the parts relate to each other and to the whole topic.
Example: Analyze the structure of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony.

C. Critique, criticize: Break the topic into its parts (analyze); explain the meaning (interpret); and give your opinion (evaluate).
Example: Critique Peter Singer’s argument that all animals are equal.

D. Evaluate: Give your opinion about a topic. You may make both positive and negative points, but you must come to some conclusion about the relative weight of good and bad points.
Example: Evaluate the importance of protein molecules in a cell.

E. Interpret: Explain the meaning of the topic. Give facts to support your point of view.
Example: Interpret the meaning of the election statistics given on page 12 of your textbook.

F. Justify, prove: Give reasons to show why the topic or assertion is true. Use examples.
Example: Justify, from a Southerner’s point of view, the need for slaves in the ante bellum South.

G. Could. . .? Determine if the topic is capable of what is being asked. Your response should include a yes or no answer.
Example: Could Hitler have won World War II if he had defeated Great Britain in 1940?

H. How would. . .? Determine the probable reaction to the topic in the circumstances provided.
Example: How would President Clinton have reacted upon discovering the Watergate break-in?

I. What would happen if. . .? Based on what you have already learned, determine the probable outcome of a new set of circumstances.
Example: Concentrated solutions of urea (8M) act as denaturing agents for proteins by disrupting non-covalent bonds. What would happen to the configuration of a protein dissolved in 8M urea?

Source: Michele Peterson, English Skills, Gyrus Learning Skills

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