How to Interpret Essay Questions
Introduction to Interpreting Essay Questions
All students, at some point, will have the task of interpreting essay questions and applying the questions to produce relevant and accurate answers. All too commonly, however, students see a few key words and start to write about everything they know on the topic, no matter how relevant it may be. This is a guaranteed way to lose valuable marks; worse, it shows that the student has not understood the art of interpreting essay questions and answering each aspect of the question in full.
When an essay question is being set, the examiner will always have an area of study that they are aiming to test. Interpreting essay questions so as to ascertain what it is the examiner hopes to achieve is a great way of gaining extra marks and ensuring that no time or effort is wasted. This is particularly important during an examination where time is tight!
Types of Essay Questions
Essay questions tend to follow a set format which makes interpreting essay questions something that can be practised with a degree of success. Whilst it may seem that there are hundreds of different ways in which a question can be asked, in reality, there are only a few variations that appear, regularly. A basic understanding of the types of essay questions that appear most frequently makes it much easier to perfect the skill of interpreting essay questions, successfully.
One of the most common types of essay questions and also one of the hardest in terms of interpreting essay questions is that of ‘discuss’. Interpreting essay questions involves making sure that the answer ties in with the question. A question, for example, that ends with ‘discuss’ is asking for an explanation of the situation but also, and crucially at least two different opposing points of view on the issues.
‘Evaluate’ is another common question that can cause problems when interpreting essay questions. When completing an essay of this nature, it is important to concentrate on critically analysing the point being put forward. Interpreting essay questions that have an evaluation element within them is more variable than other types of similar questions. The key issue to remember is that this type of essay requires a degree of appraisal and opinion, not simply a description.
Other essay types to look out for when interpreting essay questions are those that require justification or explanation. These are an interesting mix of describing, but also explaining, with room for a small amount of personal opinion.
Ways of Interpreting Essay Questions
When interpreting essay questions, it pays to take additional time to make sure that you understand the purpose and aim of the essay. Underline the key factors of the question, in particular the main directional word such as analyse, discuss or explain. This is absolutely central to interpreting essay questions as it tells the student what the examiner (or eventual reader), wants to achieve by reading the essay.
After fully understanding what the essay aims to achieve, the next element of interpreting essay questions is to work out the topics covered and the relevant weight that each topic should be given. Sometimes, this is made clear by the question itself through the use of sub-questions; other times it is a matter for the student to decide.
When interpreting essay questions, it is also important to work out how much original thought is required. Some essays require very little in the way of individual thought, relying instead on descriptions and analysis of other previously published ideas. Others will ask the student to come up with their own considerations. Interpreting essay questions is all about getting this balance right, so take time to plan this part of the essay, carefully.
Interpreting Essay Questions in Exam Conditions
Whilst interpreting essay questions is a skill that is transferable, regardless of whether the essay is being written as coursework or for an exam, there are clearly additional time pressures on students sitting exams. Interpreting essay questions accurately involves a considerable amount of planning and thought, not something that is readily available during most exams.
For this reason, the process of interpreting essay questions in exams needs to be streamlined. One part of interpreting essay questions which simply cannot be avoided is consideration of the main request contained in the essay question. Underline the part of the question that says ‘discuss’; analyse or evaluate and make sure that your answer reflects the request. When interpreting essay questions under the pressure of time that an exam often generates, it is still important to take just a few moments to consider, thoroughly, what the examiner is looking for. Break this down into sub-headings and write them in the margin so that you can ensure that you stay on track.
Interpreting essay questions is about so much more than simply reading the question; it is about constantly referring back to the question and showing an understanding of the issues raised by the question itself.
Tips for Interpreting Essay Questions
Of course, it is not always that simple, particularly not in an exam-based situation. Interpreting essay questions is one thing, but ensuring that the essay keeps to the point throughout what is often a lengthy piece of writing is another story entirely.
One great tip for ensuring that what you have learnt from interpreting essay questions is not lost in the body of the essay is to use related words to the key word, at regular intervals. For example, if the question asks you to discuss a topic, then use words such as considered, deliberated, debated and argued to show that you are continuing to discuss the issues raised.
If, having completed the exercise of interpreting essay questions, you are still not sure what the examiner is looking for, try breaking it down into smaller sentences or even words within sentences. Every essay title has an instructional word, even if it is not immediately obvious. Interpreting essay questions involves locating that word, regardless of how well concealed it may be! Do not automatically assume that it comes at the beginning or the end of the question; it could be located anywhere.
Sometimes, despite accurately interpreting essay questions, the essay goes off track. If this happens, and you are under too much time pressure to rewrite the essay, make sure that you use the concluding paragraph to refer back to the question. This gives the illusion that the issue of interpreting essay questions has been mastered and the essay is complete.Get help with your essay today from our expert law essay writers...