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What follows is an attempt to describe what is required by the command words used in Geography examinations.
In a Geography examination paper, a variety of command words are used. Some command words demand more of the candidate than others. Some require a simple task to be performed; others require greater intellectual thought and synthesis. There is, therefore, a hierarchy of command words.
Annotate The candidate is required to add notes of explanation, to a map or diagram. Annotations provide some additional description and/or explanation. For example, in the case of a stretch of coastline, the identification of a “stack” would constitute a label, whereas a “stack caused by the collapse of the roof of a natural arch” would form an annotation.
Calculate A numerical answer is required from the candidate. Working should be shown, especially where two or more steps are involved. You should always ensure that you are working or displaying the answer in the correct units (insert if they are not specifically asked for e.g. kilometres, metres, degrees, percentage etc).
Compare The candidate has to provide a point by point account of the similarities and differences between two sets of information or two areas. Two separate accounts do not comprise a comparison, unless the second account contains reference back to the first. A good technique would be to use comparative adjectives – for example, larger than, smaller than, steeper than, gentler than, etc. The command “compare” refers to both similarities and differences.
Define/Explain the meaning of The following command words ask for a relatively short answer, usually one or two sentences, where the precise definition/meaning of a term is required. The giving of an example is often helpful but should never be used instead of a definition. The size of the mark allocation will give an indication of the length of answer required.
Describe This is one of the most widely used command words. The candidate is required to give a written account, or verbal picture of the distinctive features of an item. The account should be factual, without any attempt to explain. Usually the Examiner will give some clue to which particular aspect of the description is required i.e. shape, size, height etc..
Some examples are:
(i) Describe the characteristics of …. What does the feature look like ? For example, in the case of a landform: its shape, its dimensions, its location in the field.
(ii) Describe the link between …. Here only the links between two sets of data will be credited. It is important, therefore, that the candidate establishes the relationship clearly.
(iii) Describe the changes in. .. Often used in relation to a graph, or series of graphs. Good use of accurate adverbs is required here, using words such as rapidly, steeply, gently, etc.
(iv) Describe the differences between …. Here differences only between two sets of data will be credited. It is better if these are presented as a series of separate sentences each identifying one difference, rather than separate descriptions which make the examiner complete the contrast on the candidate’s behalf.
(v) Describe the location of/distribution of …. This is usually used in conjunction with a map, or set of maps. Location refers to the place where something is, usually in relation to a direction or other features, for example in the north-west or in the mountains. Distribution refers to any groupings of phenomena. Better answers will also tend to identify anomalous areas, or areas which go against an overall trend in the distributions. For example, one exception is.. This demands a higher level of response than just “describe”.
(vi) To what extent …. The candidate is invited to make a judgement, infer something, or possibly to offer some explanation.
Draw The candidate has to make a sketch of a geographical form, and is often asked to label the diagram.
Explain/Suggest reasons why … The candidate is asked to give a statement as to why something occurs. The command word is testing the candidate’s ability to know or understand why or how something happens. Suggest reasons why is often used because there are various ways in which geographical change or geographical issues can be explained. In many cases the “real” reason is not easy to prove. E.g. Account for … Give reasons for … Suggest reasons …. How might…?
Give reasons An explanation, justification, or causes of, should be given.
Give your views The candidate is asked to say what they think about a stated geographical issue. This command word often requires the answers to be supported by logical reasoning.
Identify … Name.. State …. Give … These words ask for a short sentence or single word answer to a simple task, such as: (a) a landform may be identified from a photograph; (b) a value from a graph is required; (c) a named example of an item is required.
Illustrating your answer with … Such a command might ask the candidate to quote specific examples, or might ask for the use of a map or diagram. High level marks for such a question will not be awarded unless an example, diagram etc. is used.
Label The candidate is required to place specific names or details on a diagram.
List This command asks the candidate to identify and name a number of features to meet a particular purpose. Single words or short sentences are needed.
Refer to/With reference to See “Illustrating your answer with”
Use/Using the information provided The candidate should base their answer on information provided i.e. on the content of an illustrative resource or a written statement. Candidates need to make reference to the stated materials in order to receive credit.
With the help of …. The answer must use some of the information provided in the illustrative resource as additional material. Candidates need to make reference to the stated materials in order to receive credit.
Skills – Using Google Earth for GIS