Interpreting education essay questions is a skill that can easily be acquired. The key to doing this is in understanding the variety of expectations that are expressed in a given essay question. Each essay question is specially worded in order to garner a specific response from the student.
Understanding how to interpret education essay questions begins with understanding the form of the specific question. Each form will demand a different response and will also give specific cues as to how the question should be answered.
It is easy to decipher the form of an essay question if you look for the verb prompt in the question. This verb prompt will tell you what the purpose of the question is and what to do in order to answer it correctly. A verb prompt is an action or instruction word, such as discuss, describe, analyse, explain, contrast or compare. By locating the verb you will know what sort of action to take when responding to the question.
Some of the most common verb prompts used in an education essay question, are:
- Account for: Here you state reasons to support a specific topic or argument.
- Analyse: When asked to analyse you will need to offer a detailed study of the subject matter, identifying key points and characteristics, critically responding to the subject and giving specific examples to support your case.
- Argue: Here you are asked to put forward an argument or adopt a position on a given subject. To argue successfully, you will need to consider the pros and cons of the subject and give practical and theoretical examples to illustrate and support your position.
- Assess: Here you are asked to closely examine a given topic or situation, discuss the pros and cons or strengths and weaknesses, and make a judgement based on what you have written.
- Clarify: Here you are asked to simplify an argument or proposition in order to shed light on its meaning and significance.
- Comment: When asked to comment you are being asked for your opinion on the subject matter. You will also have to support your opinion with relevant examples and evidence.
- Compare: Here you simply place two or more things side by side in order to ascertain the similarities and differences between them.
- Consider: This word simply asks you to reflect on a given topic, offering thoughts that are informed by practical and theoretical observations.
- Contrast: In a similar fashion to the ‘compare’ form of essay question, this one asks you to consider two or more things, but the emphasis is on the differences between them, though there may also be similarities.
Six steps towards interpreting an education essay question.
Always begin by reading the question in full before you do anything else. This will give you a general idea of the focus of the question.
Read again, more closely this time, and locate the key words and phrases. This will help you locate the purpose of the essay and what you need to do in order to answer the question correctly.
Look for the verb prompt or instruction word. Circle it. Remember these are words such as, analyse, describe, discuss, compare and examine.
Look for the key words. Underline them. These words might refer to an educational theory or method, a theorist, a classroom situation, or a task that you might need to complete, such as a lesson plan.
Divide the essay question into parts. An essay question often asks more than one thing. Deciphering the parts of a question will help you structure your response so that each section of your essay responds to and answers a part of the question.
Rewrite the question in your own words. This is the final and most important step in interpreting an essay question. Here you will confirm your understanding of the purpose of the question and what you need to do. Phrase your rewritten question as a note to yourself, telling yourself what must be done. For example, ‘In this essay, I must consider the role of the teacher in the contemporary classroom and give examples from theoretical models that I’ve studied.’
Examples of education essay questions.
- The term “pedagogy” refers to the methods, styles and strategies used by a teacher to instruct students. One such pedagogical theory is the constructivist teaching method, where students enjoy an active role in the learning process, experiment, make inferences and discoveries of their own and come to their own conclusions. Here the teacher functions as a companion and guide in the learning process.
With this in mind write an essay in which you discuss the advantages and disadvantages of constructivist pedagogy. Consider how you could implement constructivist pedagogical theories in the classroom to improve the educational experience of learners. Refer to the work of at least one constructivist theorist in your essay.
- Socrates once said, “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”
Socrates did this by employing one of the most famous teaching methods in history, the Socratic Method. Write an essay in which you analyse the structure of the Socratic Method and evaluate its usefulness as a pedagogical strategy. State your opinion on whether this method might be useful in a contemporary classroom situation. How might the Socratic Method be used today? Support your response with examples and a lesson plan.
- “A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.”
What might it mean for a teacher to become “progressively unnecessary?” Do you agree with the above statement? What must occur so that a teacher might become less necessary and learners more independent? Write an essay in which you discuss these questions in light of your understanding of the ideal role of the teacher in the contemporary classroom. Support your argument by referring to one or two pedagogical methods or strategies that might facilitate the role of the teacher in becoming “progressively unnecessary.” Illustrate your answer with examples.
- “A liberal education is at the heart of a civil society, and at the heart of a liberal education is the act of teaching.”
In response to the above statement, consider the relationship between society, education and the teacher. If a good educational system is a way of producing good citizens and the teacher is the intermediary between education and society, how does this impact on the role of the teacher? Consider a situation where the community disagrees with what is being taught in school. Should a teacher teach what the community demands or what the teacher believes is correct? In your essay, firstly argue for either the community’s or the teacher’s position, giving sound reasons, and then assess the implications of such a situation on teaching strategies.
- Consider Papert’s principle which states: “Some of the most crucial steps in mental growth are based not simply on acquiring new skills, but on acquiring new administrative ways to use what one already knows.”
Interpret the above statement in your own words then write an essay in which you explain the implications of Papert’s principle in the contemporary classroom. With reference to the use of technology in the classroom, assess how learners may use technology to enrich their learning experience and apply what they have learnt in new and meaningful ways. In your answer refer to the teacher’s role in this classroom situation.
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