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Question analysis

When you are set a writing task, you are expected to answer the set question. The most common complaint from lecturers is that students don't answer the question or only answer part of it. There are few marks for essays that don't answer the set question—even if they are well written!

This workshop:

Key words: topic words, restricting words, instruction words

About question analysis

You need to use question analysis for assignments, exam essays and short answer questions. If you learn the steps for question analysis and take 10-15 minutes to think through the question in this systematic way, then you will have a good start to writing a successful essay—one that pleases the lecturer!

Tools for question analysis

The following five steps can be used to analyse ALL questions:

Click on the links to see more details.

1. Read the whole question twice

2. Look for topic words

3. Look for any words that may restrict the topic in any way

4. Look for instruction words

5. Rewrite the question in your own words.

Exercise 1: Analysing a question

READ this question twice then analyse the question using the question analysis steps:

Discuss why assignment essays are common assessment tasks in undergraduate tertiary coursework, and evaluate the effectiveness of assignments as an avenue for learning.
1. What is the main topic of this essay?
Discuss; evaluate
Common assessment tasks, undergraduate courses, effectiveness, learning
Assignment essays

2. What are the restricting words?
Discuss; evaluate
Common assessment tasks, undergraduate courses, effectiveness, learning
Assignment essays

3. What are the instruction words?
Discuss; evaluate
Common assessment tasks, undergraduate courses, effectiveness, learning
Assignment essays

4. How many parts are there to be answered in the question?
(HINT: Look at the instruction words)
One part
Two parts
Three parts

5. If I rephrase the question so that I can test my understanding, which ONE of the following has all of the elements of the question?
Rephrased version 1:
This question is asking me to talk about what assignment tasks are and how they help students to learn.
Rephrased version 2:
This question is asking me whether assignment essays are an effective teaching practice for undergraduate students.
Rephrased version 3:
This question is asking me why lecturers set assignment tasks in undergraduate degree work + it wants me to weigh up the positives and negatives of this practice and give an answer as to whether doing assignments is a worthwhile learning activity.

A practical application

Exercise 2: Question analysis

Click 'Start analysis' below to view the question analysis demonstration.

The trouble with questions

The trouble with questions is that they don't always follow the same pattern. Sometimes, the lecturers write a brief question and other times you may get a page of instructions about what is required. Sometimes, instruction words are like those on the ASO fact sheet: Analysing the question and at other times you need to interpret key words to match the instruction words.

For example, here are two other versions of our workshop question:

The question starts with a statement.

Assignment essays are common assessment tasks in undergraduate tertiary coursework. Discuss why they are set and evaluate the effectiveness of assignments as an avenue for learning.

The question doesn't use 'instruction' words.

Why are assignment essays common assessment tasks in undergraduate tertiary coursework, and are they effective as an avenue for learning?

You still follow the same steps but you will need to recognize the differences and spend time interpreting the question until you are satisfied that you are on the right path.

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