Some good action verbs for students to know are "list," "define," "describe," "compare" and "contrast." Most exam questions contain one of these directives. When a student encounters these instructions on an exam, it is important to understand the meaning of the instruction and what the question is asking in order to obtain the maximum amount of credit, or avoid losing credit for questions on material the student knows.
If a question asks the student to list certain items, events or concepts, the student should list these items and proceed to the next question. Unless the potential for extra credit exists by providing additional information, a question asking for a list should earn full credit by simply listing items.
A question that asks to define requires students to provide the meaning or definition of a term. A question that asks to describe something calls for a more detailed answer by providing additional facts, characteristics or examples. An answer to this type of question should provide sufficient detail to distinguish the item from similar items.
A question asking to compare two or more items requires the student to describe how items are similar, resemble each other, perform the same function, or share common features or characteristics. A question asking to contrast two or more items requires the student to explain how the items differ, or what distinguishes or separates them from each other. If a question asks to compare and contrast two or more items, the answer must describe how the items are similar and how they differ.
Reading the question carefully and understanding what is being asked is essential for achieving the maximum credit for questions the student can competently answer.