Examination Techniques


Before you start on any particular question read it through very carefully, and make quite sure that you interpret the question correctly. Look for the 'Key' words in each question such as 'Discuss', 'Summarise', 'Compare', 'Outline' and make sure that you know exactly what the wording means.

Some of the terms which are frequently used in questions are listed below. Make sure that you are quite clear about the precise meaning of each of them.

Compare Look for similarities and differences between.
Contrast Set in opposition in order to bring out the differences.
Criticise Give your judgement about the merit of theories or opinions or about the truth of facts, and back your judgement by a discussion of the evidence.
Define Set down the precise meaning of a word or phrase. Show that the distinctions implied in the definition are necessary.
Describe Give a detailed or graphic account of
Discuss Investigate or examine by argument, sift and debate, giving reasons pro and con
Evaluate Make an appraisal of the worth of something, in the light of its truth or utility; include to a lesser degree, your personal opinion.
Explain To make plain, to interpret, and to account for.
Illustrate Use a figure or diagram to explain or clarify, or make clear by the use of concrete examples.
Interpret Expound the meaning of; make clear and explicit; usually giving your own judgement also.
Justify Show adequate grounds for decisions or conclusions.
Outline Give the main features or general principles of a subject omitting minor details, and emphasizing structure and arrangement.
Relate a) To narrate. More usually, in examinations.
  b) Show how things are connected to each other, and to what extent they are alike, or affect each other.
Review To make a survey of, examining the subject critically.
State Present in brief, clear form.
Summarise Give a concise account of the chief points or substance of a matter, omitting details and examples.
Trace Follow the development or history of a topic from some point or origin

* This list is adapted from that given by Bird, C. and Bird, D.M., Leaining More Effective Study, New York, Appleton-Century-Crifts, 1945, pp 195-198.

First used by Prof Jason Teoh in 16/11/1976 for MBBS IV (Class of 1973/78) teachings.


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The Occupational Medicine Clinic is a referral clinic for occupational diseases and is open on every Friday in University Malaya Medical Centre.