Understanding task words

How to use task words for your assessments and examinations

Why tasks words matter and how to understand the differences between outline, explain, justify and rationale. And what these words mean for your assessments and examinations.

When it comes to assessment tasks and examinations, task words are incredibly important. To put it simply, they tell you what you need to do, how much to write (in addition to looking at rubrics, weightings and mark allocation if in an exam) and in many respects how to answer the questions.

Whilst this is not an exhaustive list, it hopefully provides some ideas of how to respond when you next see these words come up:

  • List - make points briefly, often one word answers - 'List 3 risk factors for diabetes'
  • Define - explain the meaning of ...
  • Describe or outline - provide the facts about something
  • Explain - provide details that help to give an understanding of ...
  • Analyse - break down an issue, discuss them in the various parts and show how they might be related
  • Appraise - evaluate or assess the quality of ...
  • Justify or provide a rationale - prove a statement is true by linking to evidence or examples, the trick to these questions, if you can ask why, that's not a sufficient justification or rationale