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We have received lots of questions from teachers asking about command words for our new Geography qualifications. But what are command words? And how important are they?
Command words are the words in the exam questions (usually one of the first words) which indicate what the examiner wants from the question and the style of the response needed. Knowing what command words mean is important for understanding the demands of the question – however the rest of the wording in a question is just as important to read. The rest of the wording will contextualise the question and might contain key words which affect how students should answer the question.
The following is an example of how to break a question down into its key parts, with this example being from the sample assessment material of one of our new GCSE (9–1) qualifications:
Below is another example of how to break a question down into its key parts, this time the question is from our new A Level sample assessment material:
The number of marks available for a question is also important when deciding on the best way to answer the question. For example, a two mark question for ‘explain’ would be answered differently to a six mark question with the same command word. What is required from a command word may also vary slightly depending on if interaction with a resource is required.
So whilst command words are important, it is just as important (or even more important) to read the whole question carefully and tailor any response to the actual wording of the question set.
Below are some definitions for a number of the most common command words that we used in our Sample Assessment Materials. These suggested definitions could be used to aid discussion but the important thing is that students understand what is required in an answer if they see the particular command word. Therefore teachers should translate the definitions into wording that will resonate with their students so they can understand what is required.
And remember to tell them to read every word in every question!