Skip to main content

Essay questions

Follow these tips to help you through your essay questions on your exam:

  • When forming your thesis, be clear and specific. You can use some of the wording from the question to form your thesis.
  • If the essay question is part of a larger exam, be mindful of time. The number of marks the question is worth should reflect the length and time required to answer the question.
  • Try to keep the structure of your essay simple for in-person essay exams: Introduction, body, and conclusion.
  • Before you begin writing, list out in point form a few of your arguments that you plan on using in the body paragraph(s).
  • Read the essay question carefully, paying close attention to the assignment verbs. Make sure you craft your essay according to the guidelines set by the question. For instance, if you are asked to relate, that will require a different approach than if you are asked to evaluate.
  • Some important terms that can help you determine how to approach the essay question are:
    • Compare: consider something in relation to something else (similarities, differences).
    • Define: requires a detailed explanation of a term’s meaning.
    • Describe: write a representation of the concept.
    • Discuss: demonstrate an understanding of facts that offers more than one point of view, perhaps favouring one point of view over the others.
    • Evaluate: make critical comments backed by evidence, not merely opinion.
    • Identify: answer includes who, what, where, when and why.
    • Relate: apply knowledge to actual situations.


Frederiks, Anita, Kate Derrington, and Cristy Bartlett. (20 January 2021). Types of Exams. In N. Anderson and W. Hargreaves (Eds.), Academic Success. University of Southern Queensland. Accessed at: