Tony Blair’s exam tip-Read the question

What do those words mean

I like to listen to the today programme on radio 4 as I drive into work. Prime time for any news story is the 10 past 8 interview. Today it was a debate between Lord Falconer and Michael Howard about the legitimacy of the Iraq war given the new inquiry by Sir John Chilcot.

The key point appeared to hinge around the words used by the intelligence community to describe the quality of the information about WMD. According to Michael Howard, Blair was told that the intelligence was “limited, sporadic and patchy”. He is said to have interpreted or misrepresented, depending on your point of view, this to mean “Detailed, extensive and authoritative”

This got me thinking as to how important it is to interpret words correctly, especially in the exam room.  Although you could argue that the result of failing to interpret an exam question is not quite as serious as misunderstanding if a country in which you are going to invade has WMD. Some students might in fact disagree.

So to the point

When reading your exam question, take time to read the words in particular the verbs carefully. Is the examiner asking for a Definition which is to give the meaning of or a Description, which means to identify the characteristics. Are they asking you to Assess, To make a judgement about the importance, supported by evidence or to Advise which is to Inform or notify.

In order to help read the words, underline them as you read. Don’t underline all of them, just the ones that you think are important. This not only makes them stand out and so less easy to forget, it also sends a signal to the brain that you should focus your attention a little more closely on this part of the question.

Thanks for that Tony, very helpful.  Let’s hope you have interpreted your words correctly!

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