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Essay Direction Words and Timed Writing Tips

Page history last edited by Don Pogreba 11 years, 7 months ago


Direction Words

Most essay test items are not presented in the form of a question. Instead, they are often presented as a statement that includes a direction word. The direction word tells you what you should do when you write your answer to the item. Underline the direction word and be sure to do what it tells you to do.

Here are the direction words that are most frequently used by teachers when they write essay test items. The meaning of each direction word is provided and is followed by an example of an essay test item using that direction word. Get to know what each of these direction words tells you to do.

  • Analyze - Analyze tells you to break something down into its parts and show how the parts relate to each other to make the whole.
  • Compare – Compare tells you to show how two or more things are BOTH similar and different.
  • Contrast – Contrast tells you to show how two or more things are different.
  • Define – Define tells you to explain the meaning of something in a brief, specific manner.
  • Describe – Describe tells you to present a full and detailed picture of something in words to include important characteristics and qualities.
  • Diagram – Diagram tells you to illustrate something by drawing a picture of it and labeling its parts.
  • Evaluate – Evaluate tells you to present both the positive and negative characteristics of something.
  • Explain – Explain tells you to provide facts and reasons to make something clear and understandable.
  • Justify – Justify tells you to provide reasons and facts in support of something.
  • List – List tells you to present information about something as a series of brief numbered points.
  • Outline – Outline tells you to present the most important information about something in a carefully organized manner.
  • Summarize – Summarize tells you to present the main points about something in a brief form.
  • Trace – Trace tells you to present the order in which something occurred.


Addressing the Prompt in Timed Writing

1. Read the prompt carefully.

Identify the abstract concept that is the focus of the prompt.

Identify any concrete device(s) the prompt specifies or suggests you use.

2. Read the passage for understanding.

Ask yourself who, what, when, where, why questions if necessary.

Keep the prompt in mind when you read.

3. Reread and mark the passage.

Focus on concrete devices that create the abstract. Jot notes in the margins as you read. These notes may be all of the prewriting you have time to do.

4. Your thesis should directly reflect the prompt.

Do not be afraid to state the obvious.

Be clear as to the approach that you are taking and the concepts that you intend to prove.

5. Focus on your commentary.

Your insight and understanding of the literature, as well as how you make the connections called for in the prompt are what the grader will look for.

Be sure to organize your ideas logically.

6. Your conclusion must be worth reading.

Do not just repeat what you have already said.

Your conclusion should reflect an understanding of the passage and the question.

Use a thematic statement, but avoid moralizing and absolute words. 




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