Responding to an essay question

Identifying key words

Begin by identifying the key words in the question which stand out for you.

In the table are examples of key words or phrases that may appear in an essay question, along with ideas for how you could tackle them. You should always address what the words in the question are asking you to do in your response.

Exam question typeKey words and phrases to look out forHow to approach the questionConsiderations
ComparisonCompare/compare and contrast/identify similarities and differences.Write about ways in which two or more poems are similar and ways in which they are different.Try to compare the poems throughout your response, rather than writing about them separately.
Understanding how a poem worksThe ways in which the poem/the ways in which the poet.Write about how themes, ideas and form, structure and language link to the meaning and effect of a poem.You are not being asked just what a poem says but also about how it gets that message across.
Approaching the essay Consider/explore/discuss/write about.Analyse the poem showing you can offer ideas about the way it works.Think about different possible readings and don’t be afraid to offer your personal response.

Highlighting key words

What are the key words to highlight in the following sample questions?

Question

Explore how Carole Rumens presents ideas of home and conflict in The Émigrée.

Explore how Carole Rumens presents ideas of home and conflict in The Émigrée.

Question

What are the key words in this essay title?

In Walking Away by C Day Lewis, how does the poet present the speaker’s feelings about their child?

In Walking Away by C Day Lewis, how does the poet present the speaker's feelings about their child?

Explore the study guide for 'The Émigrée'.

Explore the study guide for 'Walking Away'.