Question analysis

Key words: topic words, restricting words, instruction words

When you are set a writing task, you are expected to answer the set question. The most common complaint from lecturers is that students don’t answer the question or only answer part of it. There are few marks for essays that don’t answer the set question—even if they are well written!

About question analysis

You need to use question analysis for assignments, exam essays and short answer questions. If you learn the steps for question analysis and take 10-15 minutes to think through the question in this systematic way, then you will have a good start to writing a successful essay—one that pleases the lecturer!

Tools for question analysis

The following five steps can be used to analyse ALL questions:

1. Read the whole question twice

2. Look for topic words

Topic words are easy to locate. They tell you what you have to write about. But be careful as you may only have to write about some aspect of this topic. Never stop here! Go to the next step (restricting words).

3. Look for any words that may restrict the topic in any way

Restricting words are words or phrases that narrow the topic and make it more specific, i.e. this is the part of the broad topic that the lecturer wants you to investigate—you will only be given marks on subject matter that is restricted to the aspect of the topic.

4. Look for instruction words

Instruction words are words that tell you what to do. Be careful with these. If the lecturer wants you to describe, your answer will not be the same as when you are asked to critically assess. The ASO factsheet: Analysing the question gives you a number of common instruction words and shows you what they mean. Be careful:

  • Words such as what, how and why can also be used, and you will have to interpret the specific meaning behind the question
  • Two or more instruction words in a question means that you will have to answer each part of the question.

5. Rewrite the question in your own words.

Rewriting the question in your own words is a good way of making sure that you have understood the question, BUT you must stay close to the original question. Then, you need to match your version to the original—if you have any doubts about your interpretation, check with your lecturer.

Exercise 1: Analysing a question

READ this question twice then analyse the question using the question analysis steps:

Discuss why assignment essays are common assessment tasks in undergraduate tertiary coursework, and evaluate the effectiveness of assignments as an avenue for learning.

1. What is the main topic of this essay?

Discuss; evaluate

incorrect.

Common assessment tasks, undergraduate courses, effectiveness, learning

incorrect.

Assignment essays

Correct!

 

2. What are the restricting words?

Discuss; evaluate

incorrect.

Common assessment tasks, undergraduate courses, effectiveness, learning

Correct!

Assignment essays

incorrect.

 

3. What are the instruction words?

Discuss; evaluate

Correct!

Common assessment tasks, undergraduate courses, effectiveness, learning

incorrect.

Assignment essays

incorrect.

 

4. How many parts are there to be answered in the question?

 
One part

incorrect.

Two parts

Correct!

Three parts

incorrect.

 

5. If I rephrase the question so that I can test my understanding, which ONE of the following has all of the elements of the question?

Rephrased version 1: This question is asking me to talk about what assignment tasks are and how they help students to learn.

incorrect.

Rephrased version 2: This question is asking me whether assignment essays are an effective teaching practice for undergraduate students.

incorrect.

Rephrased version 3: This question is asking me why lecturers set assignment tasks in undergraduate degree work + it wants me to weigh up the positives and negatives of this practice and give an answer as to whether doing assignments is a worthwhile learning activity.

Correct!

Exercise 2: Question analysis

When you are analysing a question for an assignment or in exams, you need a system to mark up your text (scribble notes around the question) using highlighters, arrows and short notes. Develop a code that you can use for all of your question analysis needs. An example is demonstrated below.

The trouble with questions

The trouble with questions is that they don’t always follow the same pattern. Sometimes, the lecturers write a brief question, and other times you may get a page of instructions about what is required. Sometimes, instruction words are like those on the ASO factsheet: Analysing the question, and at other times you need to interpret key words to match the instruction words.

 

For example, here are two other versions of our workshop question:

The question starts with a statement.
Assignment essays are common assessment tasks in undergraduate tertiary coursework. Discuss why they are set and evaluate the effectiveness of assignments as an avenue for learning.

The question doesn’t use ‘instruction’ words.
Why are assignment essays common assessment tasks in undergraduate tertiary coursework, and are they effective as an avenue for learning?

You still follow the same steps, but you will need to recognize the differences and spend time interpreting the question until you are satisfied that you are on the right path.

More information
ASO Factsheet: Analysing the question

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