Saturday, 12 September 2015

Exam Technique - How to Describe

So, I thought it would be a good idea to write some posts on specific aspects of exam technique. Having marked many many exam questions over the years I am convinced that knowing what to do in the exam is just as important as revising information. Obviously you need to know the information first before you can apply it to the exam, but just revision alone is not enough for a top grade.

Understanding command words is key. Even the simplest one can be misunderstood. Let's start with 'DESCRIBE'. This is one of the most straight forward things that you could be asked to do. However, many people make mistakes with this command word and end up losing easy marks.

Describe simply means to say what you see so that someone who can’t see the image or graph or 
table that you are looking at would be able to imagine it clearly from your description.

For example, you might want to say:
  • -          How big/long/wide it is
  • -          What shape it is
  • -          What colour it is
  • -          Where is it located in relation to something else
  • -          What it appears to be made of

Common errors to avoid
  • You do not need to explain why something is the way it is or how it was made, just say what you see.
  • You must pay attention to the number of marks in the question. If there are 4 marks the easiest way to get all 4 marks is to say 4 things about the image (or 5 just in case one is wrong!)
  • When presented with an image of a particular geographical feature (e.g. a mountain) many people waste time describing what a mountain is rather than describing the mountain that is in the photo.
  • Do not ignore the photo/image/table/graph in front of you. It is there for a reason – for you to USE! Many people only look at it for a second, say one obvious thing about it and then proceed to write lots of information from their own knowledge that’s only vaguely related to the question.


Study Figure 2 which shows a flood management strategy.

Using Figure 2 only, describe this flood management strategy (4 marks).

In this question you are specifically asked to look at Figure 2. The examiner is trying to make sure that you spend time looking at the photo rather than just skipping straight to the question.

The next part of the question specifically tells you that you must ONLY use Figure 2 and that you must describe THIS flood management strategy, i.e. the one in the picture. 

You’d be surprised how many people simply describe what a dam in paying no further attention to the one in the photo.

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