Written Exam Answers

Your subject teachers will have taught you about different kinds of written answers. How you approach them will depend on just how much writing is needed. Some require a single word or sentence, and probably start:

  • define
  • state
  • what is…
  • when
  • where
  • give an example of…

Those are the easy ones, and are usually more about recall than anything else. Some are much more open and may require a longer answer or even an essay. If so, there are a few things you can do to help you get as many marks as possible.


Check with your teacher – what kind of format is needed? Will bullet points lose marks? Can you use headings? Even if you can’t break a long answer up into explicit sections, it will probably be good to have some idea of what you will need to include. The number of marks available should guide the amount of time you spend on the question, but a moment spent thinking before you write will probably be well spent.

Showing Off

Your answer should show that not only do you know stuff but also that you can explain it in the context of the question. Use key words and processes, explain links between different parts of the topic, and relate concepts to real situations or consequences. One acronym which can be interpreted in several ways is PEE.

  • Point: what are you trying to say?
  • Evidence: state the fact in the real world, historical event, scientific concept or quote from a text you think is relevant.
  • Explain/Evaluate: justify your choice and show why it is linked to your opinion.

Of course, once you have given your answer you will need to check it makes sense. It might also be worth checking important words for spelling, and going over the grammar. Using the sequence on the printable above will help you to slow down your thinking so that the clear, concise sentences don’t need much editing once you’ve written them down.

Practice using this structure in your various subjects – perhaps write up a summary you can refer to during revision. You’ll probably find different ‘internal checklists’ useful in different topics (Safety, Variables, Controls, Measurements, Repeats might be helpful when writing experimental plans but less so in English) but the process of explaining your thinking in writing is universal – and useful in real life too.


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