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Common mistakes: Structured Questions

In this post, I will be sharing a number of common mistakes made by students that I've observed over the years, as well as some useful tips that I believe will help you avoid making the same mistakes.


Type of questions that I will be addressing in this post:

  1. With reference to Fig. 1/ Photograph A...

  2. Describe

  3. Explain/ Account for/ Suggest reasons

  4. Compare

  5. Discuss/ Assess/ Evaluate/ To what extent


#1 With reference to Fig. 1/ Photograph A


Characteristic of such questions:
  • This type of questions come with a stimuli which takes up around 50% of the paper


Common mistake:
  • Describing or explaining the answer without adequately providing 'evidence' from the Fig. or Photograph


Tips:
  • If statistics are provided in the Fig., make sure you include them in your answer as a form of support for the description or explanation

  • If you are given a map, make sure you use the scale, North arrow in your description of the locality of the subject in the map. Look at the legend/ key of the map carefully

  • If you are given a photograph, make sure you analyse the entire photograph before you attempt to answer the question. While making reference to the photograph in your answer, you can use words like “right foreground, left background, middle ground of the photograph”



#2 Describe


Characteristics of such questions:
  • This type of questions are usually around 2-3 marks when asked in isolation.

  • Describe questions may be asked together with explanation questions which may total up to 5-6 marks.


Common mistake:
  • Some students would explain instead of describe as they got carried away by the need to regurgitate facts and information that they have studied.


Tips:
  • If you find yourself writing words like “as…” or “this is because…”, pause and relook at the Command Word(s) in the question! If the question did not specify or require you to explain, no marks will be awarded when you try to justify the description that you have just formed. Don’t waste your precious time!

  • Descriptions are usually 1 mark per point. So write sufficiently to ensure that you can attain the full marks.

  • If a 5 marks question says “Describe…and explain…”, make sure you plan your points.

  • - 2 marks for Describe – give 2 descriptions with reference to the Fig or Photograph

  • - 3 marks for Explain – either provide 3 sets of simple and brief explanations, or 2 sets of detailed explanation



#3 Explain/ Account for/ Suggest reasons


Characteristics of such questions:
  • Usually 3-5 marks per question

  • This is the most common type of question asked in the paper


Common mistake:
  • Not writing enough to attain full marks


Tips:
  • Explanation questions comes in 2 forms:

  1. Explain with reference to a Fig./ Photo – make sure you support your explanation

  2. Explain using your content knowledge – draw connections between what you have learned and the question demand. Also, do consider using case studies that you know of to support your answer.

  • It’s usually 2 marks per detailed explanation. Plan your points accordingly.



#4 Comparison


Characteristics of such questions:
  • Usually 3-5 marks per question


Common mistake:
  • Not using comparative words

  • Separating your subjects into two separate paragraphs and include ‘on the other hand’ in between the two paragraphs to assume that you are comparing


Tips:
  • Comparative words must be used in your answer (i.e. Higher, lower, steeper, gentler, etc.)

  • It’s usually 1 mark per comparison. So ensure that in your sentence, you include both subjects.


  • E.g. Compare the characteristics between a stratovolcano and shield volcano.

  • - A stratovolcano has a steeper gradient than a shield volcano.

  • - A shield volcano has a broader summit as compared to a stratovolcano.

  • - Do not attempt to write one paragraph on the characteristics of stratovolcano and another paragraph on shield volcano. This is not comparison!


  • If a Fig./ Photograph is provided, make sure you make reference to it and use it to support your comparison.



#5 Discuss/ Assess/ Evaluate/ To what extent


Characteristics of such questions:
  • Usually 4-5 marks per question


Common mistake:
  • Not addressing both sides to the question


Tips:
  • Always ensure that your answer addresses both sides to such questions

  • E.g. If the question asks you to discuss the impacts, make sure you address both positive and negative impacts.


The most efficient way to learn is to avoid the same mistakes made by others. Try it. Hope this can help you to craft better answers.


Let me know your thoughts. Hit me up on Instagram.

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© 2020 by Bernice Loon