Analysing the assessment task

This resource will explain why it is important to analyse your assessment task by breaking down any questions or instructions, with guidelines on how to do this effectively.

Why do I need to analyse the task?

The first step in responding to an assessment task, whether it is a report, exam, essay or short answer question, is to understand the question or instructions that frame the task; that is, you need to be able to clearly articulate to yourself what it is you are being asked to do. It is crucial that you understand and interpret the question to the best of your ability.

It is common for students to jump straight into the reading, research and writing of assessments without properly understanding what the question is actually asking and thus end up submitting something that only partially fulfils the task.

Analysing the task

Assessment tasks can be analysed by looking for and understanding key words. We will overview the different types of key words used and their purpose below.

Identify instruction words

Instruction words in an assessment question tell you what your assessment should do. In the example question below, there are two instruction words, which are identify and explain.


Question: Identify and explain some of the difficulties in achieving economic, political and social development in the aftermath of war and conflict?

Take a look at the table below to see some other examples of instruction words and what they generally mean.


Study the importance or value of your topic.


Break down the topic/question given and provide an in-depth account.


Find the differences and similarities between two or more ideas, concepts, events etc. and focus on their differences and implications.


Provide a thorough description, emphasising the most important points, ideas or events of a particular topic.


Present an opinion about a particular topic that is both informed and supported. This also often requires description and interpretation.


Assess the strengths and weaknesses of the particular topic and give reasons for your assessment.


Make clear, trace the development, and give reasons for.


Identify the most important aspects, challenges or points regarding the particular topic.


Explain or clarify a particular topic through concrete examples, events or historical developments etc.


Explain the meaning of something and give your own judgement of the particular topic/situation.


Present the main features or principles of the topic.


Outline and track the development or process of a particular event, idea or concept.

Identify content words

Content words tell you the critical concepts, issues and areas that you must direct your writing and research towards to answer the question. The content words included in the example question below are underlying reasons, rivalry and Japan and the Qing Empire/Republic of China.


Question: What were the underlying reasons for the rivalry between Japan and the Qing Empire/Republic of China between 1895 and 1945?

Identify value words

Value words indicate a value judgement or attitude towards the question. The value word included in the example question below is wider.


Question: How might the problem of energy security impact upon wider aspects of international security?

Identify scoping words

Scoping words instruct you on how you are expected to limit your discussion. The scoping words included in the example question below are using two case studies.


Question: How has the creation of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank contributed to the global debt crisis? Discuss using two case studies.

Further resources