Glossary of Command Terms Often Used for Exam Questions

Account for: Asks students to explain a particular happening or outcome. Students are expected to present a reasoned case for the existence of something. For example: Why is conformity difficult to resist? Account for the dynamics of conformity.

Analyze: Asks students to respond with a closely argued and detailed examination of a perspective or a development. A clearly written analysis will indicate the relevant interrelationships between key variables, any relevant assumptions involved, and also include a critical view of the significance of the account as presented. If this key word is augmented by “the extent to which” then students should be clear that judgment is also sought. For example: Analyze the extent to which methodological and ethical issues relate to lifespan studies in psychology.

Assess: Asks students to measure and judge the merits and quality of an argument or concept. Students must clearly identify and explain the evidence for the assessment they make. For example: Assess the effectiveness of treatments based on behavioral principles.

Compare/Compare & Contrast: Asks students to describe two situations and present the similarities and differences between them. On its own, a description of the two situations does not meet the requirements of this key word. For example: Compare and contrast two content theories of motivation. Compare models of abnormal behavior from the psychodynamic and cognitive perspectives. Compare the biomedical and psychodynamic models of “mental illness.”

Define: Asks students to give a clear and precise account of a given word or term. For example: Define the term “homeostasis.”

Describe: Asks students to give a portrayal of a given situation. It is a neutral request to present a detailed picture of a given situation, event, pattern, process or outcome, although it may be followed by a further opportunity for discussion and analysis. For example: Describe the apparent altruistic behavior of two different species of non-human animals, not including social insects.

Discuss/consider: Asks students to consider a statement or to offer a considered review or balanced discussion of a particular topic. If the question is presented in the form of a quotation, the specific purpose is to stimulate a discussion on each of its parts. The question is asking for students’ opinions; these should be presented clearly and supported with as much empirical evidence and sound argument as possible. For example: Discuss the relevance of classical condition and of operant conditioning to our understanding of human behavior.

Distinguish: Asks students to demonstrate a clear understanding of similar terms. For example: Distinguish between psychological definitions of conformity and compliance.

Evaluate: Asks students to make an appraisal of the argument or concept under investigation or discussion. Students should weigh the nature of the evidence available, and identify and discuss the convincing aspects of the argument, as well as its limitations and implications. For example: Evaluate studies that have been used to investigate visual processing.

Examine: Asks students to investigate an argument or concept and present their own analysis. Students should approach the question in a critical and detailed way that uncovers the assumptions and interrelationships of the issue. For example: Examine the ways in which the biological perspective contributes to our understanding of human society.

Explain: Asks students to describe clearly, make intelligible and give reasons for a concept, process, relationship or development. For example: Explain the historical factors that gave rise to the birth of the cognitive perspective.

Identify: Asks students to recognize one or more component parts or processes. For example: Identify two group processes and describe how they are interpreted by social psychologists.

Outline: Asks students to write a brief summary of the major aspects of the issue, principle, approach or argument stated in the question. For example: Outline two reasons why the participant observer may have obtained different information from that obtained through questionnaires and interviews.

To what extent: Asks students to evaluate the success or otherwise of one argument or concept over another. Students should present a conclusion, supported by arguments. For example: To what extent are attitudes good predictors of behavior