Understanding HSC Key Words - They're Important!


From my experience, many students (myself included) lose careless marks in exams by not thinking through and reading the key verb in each question carefully enough, and as a result they end up not answering the question properly. This is especially the case in years 11 and 12, where marks start to matter more and more.

It is particularly important to understand how to address questions differently when being asked to do different things, depending on those key verbs. If you haven't familiarised yourself with them, it could be difficult know the differences on what HSC markers want to see in answers when the key word changes (e.g. from "describe" to "discuss" or to "analyse").

Here are some other things you could do to familiarise yourself with the verbs.


Marking Criteria

This is what markers use to mark your questions; it's important to put yourself in the shoes of your teachers and ask yourself whether you'd give full marks to your own answers.

Not only are the marking criteria for HSC exams mostly on BOSTES' website, they are also usually given out at school when you get your exams back; don't discard this, have a read of why your teacher might not have given you some marks and see if it was because you didn't answer the question due to not understanding the key word. Additionally, for speeches and assignments, the marking criteria is sometimes given to you beforehand, try self-marking it before handing it in to see if you have truly answered the question by addressing the key verb.


Sample Answers

If you are unsure on how to answer a question and looking at the marking criteria is too confusing, reading sample answers can be a good guide to help you see what markers are looking for.

It is a good idea to read  some sample answers to questions with the same key word and see if there are patterns in the way answers are put together. Thus, you might be able to tell what’s the best way to approach a particular verb, or at least know what a good answer should look like.


Practice & Get it checked

Reading sample answers is one thing, but to actually attempt a question is another. There is generally more than one way to answer most questions, and only by doing them will you know which style you are most comfortable with. Doing past HSC or school exam questions is also very helpful to not only familiarise yourself with the key words, but also the style of questions, which may vary between subjects (even with the same key word used). For best results, practise the questions under exam conditions and get your teacher to mark them for you.

It is also important to revisit (or better, re-do) questions from past exams that you got wrong, and ask your teachers on how to improve in the future. This allows you to learn from your mistakes and hopefully avoid them in the future.


Read The Guide

If you’re too lazy to do any of the above, at least have a read of the "Glossary of Key Words (HSC)"; it's the briefest way to understand each verb. You can find it on BOSTES' website, but I have also attached it for you below:  



Account for: state reasons for, report on. Give an account of: narrate a series of events or transactions


Identify components and the relationship between them; draw out and relate implications


Use, utilise, employ in a particular situation


Make a judgement about the value of


Make a judgement of value, quality, outcomes, results or size


Ascertain/determine from given facts, figures or information


Make clear or plain


Arrange or include in classes/categories


Show how things are similar or different


Make; build; put together items or arguments


Show how things are different or opposite

Critically (analyse/evaluate)

Add a degree or level of accuracy depth, knowledge and understanding, logic, questioning, reflection and quality to (analyse/evaluate)


Draw conclusions


State meaning and identify essential qualities


Show by example


Provide characteristics and features


Identify issues and provide points for and/or against


Recognise or note/indicate as being distinct or different from; to note differences between


Make a judgement based on criteria; determine the value of


Inquire into


Relate cause and effect; make the relationships between things evident; provide why and/or how


Choose relevant and/or appropriate details


Infer from what is known


Recognise and name


Draw meaning from


Plan, inquire into and draw conclusions about


Support an argument or conclusion


Sketch in general terms; indicate the main features of


Suggest what may happen based on available information


Put forward (for example a point of view, idea, argument, suggestion) for consideration or action


Present remembered ideas, facts or experiences


Provide reasons in favour


Retell a series of events


Express, concisely, the relevant details


Putting together various elements to make a whole

Source: BOSTES


I hope some of these tips have helped! If you think they might be beneficial try them out next time. As I always have believed, practice makes perfect (or at least it will get you better marks)!


Jack Zheng | N° 4

Study, ExamAmy AuComment