Getting the hang of new academic vocabulary can be a bit of a challenge. Lots of words mean similar things, and the slight differences between some words could mean the difference between succeeding in an essay or losing direction.

Each discipline will have its specific terminologies which are special to your field. As far as this goes, it is up to you to get your head around those discipline-specific terms.

What we can do in this blog is to help you with the general essay question terminology. This should mean that when you are faced with a question throughout your academic journey, you can identify which path you are intended to follow.

Common Essay Question Terminology

Here we have listed some typical words used in essay questions and broken down what they mean. Remember that at an academic level, you will need to have evidence to back up every point you make in the argument you present, no matter what the direction of the question is.

It may be something you have been told before every exam you have ever taken, but we cannot stress this enough: Read the Question!

Make sure that with every point you make, you are referring back to the question! Keep the phrasing of the question in mind as you work through the essay so you can ensure you stay on track.

Glossary of Terms

Define: State exactly the nature or meaning of something. If there are any irregularities or problems with the definition, debate them and discuss any other opinions relating to it.

Discuss: Write about the topic, or part of it, in detail while considering different issues or ideas associated with it. This is essentially a debate for and against a statement, coming to a particular conclusion.

Contrast: Focus on the most striking differences between the elements of the question. Find key features which differentiate the points the most and discuss them.

Justify: Give evidence to support the idea in the question. While stating points to reinforce the argument, consider also any important counter-arguments. You will be expected to come to an informed conclusion.

To what extent: Elaborate on the degree to which something is believed to be the case. Give a detailed assessment of the topic with evidence to back up every point, again considering counter-arguments where necessary.

Explore: Inquire into the subject with as much detail as possible, and consider varied stances on the topic, too. Use both sides of your argument to arrive at a conclusion.

Illustrate: Show the way in which you arrived at an opinion or stance in an argument. Evidence and statistics would be helpful here. Don’t draw anything! Think of it similarly to ‘demonstrate’.

Exam Tactics

When you get into the exam, look through all of the questions first. Remember, there could be two parts to a question which are disguised in different sentences.

Read each question carefully and circle the words which relate to how you should answer the question.

Whether you have to answer every question in the booklet or just a few, make sure you look through all of the suitable ones and check what they are asking for. Try to match up the topics you know best with the type of writing you can do best.

Before you dive straight into the answer, try to note down reminders of what you need to include for each side of the argument, or any other relevant information which relates to the question. If you have to contrast, you will require a counter-argument, for example.

Coursework Tactics

If you have more time to write your essay, such as for a piece of coursework rather than an on-the-spot exam question, you have more time to prepare your answer.

You can write an in-depth plan on the route you will take with your essay. You will also have extra time to carefully ensure that each element of the question is answered. Make sure your referencing is up to standard on the essay, too.

Proofreading Your Essays

While in an exam you will be in timed conditions, you should still factor in time to read through your completed essays within the time limit. This will allow you to make sure that you have answered the questions as best you can, and that your spelling and grammar are correct.

With coursework and non-time bound essays, if you would like a second opinion before you submit, you can get in touch with us for an instant quote. As part of our academic proofreading service our professional proofreaders can check your document in detail and fix any spelling, grammar or syntax errors, making it the best it can be.