Understanding Stuff Better – Interpreting Language

There are several seemingly simple words and expressions that test takers regularly encounter. Seemingly because these words have different meanings in different contexts. Understanding what these mean and when can mean the difference between selecting a right answer and being saddled with a lower than expected score.

Take for instance the following expressions:

take exception  to object to, or disagree with something. I take exception to your remarks about my friend.
argue to show, to prove, to indicate his clothes argue wealth

Here are a few common words that are used in questions and reading comprehension passages. Take a look:

Function Verb Explanation
Account for Explain the reasons for, giving an indication of all relevant circumstances. This is very different from “give an account of”, which asks only for a detailed description.
Analyse Consider carefully and in detail by breaking the problem down into its constituent parts, identifying and describing in detail the main characteristics, and recognizing the relationships between them.
Apply Make use of given or known information to solve other problems either through generalization or theorizing.
Comment State clearly, and in a moderate fashion, your opinion on the material in question. Support your views with references to suitable evidence or with explanations as appropriate.
Compare Look for qualities or characteristics that resemble each other. Emphasize similarities, but be aware of points of difference.
Contrast Stress the dissimilarities and differences between the items in question, but do not ignore points of similarity.
Define Give concise, clear and authoritative meanings. Do not give too many details, but be sure to state the limits of the definition. Show how the things you are defining differ from things in other categories.
Describe Give a detailed or graphic account presenting all aspects or parts.
Discuss Investigate or examine carefully by argument and debate, giving pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages. Be complete and give details. Consider all sides of the issue and reach a balanced conclusion.
Exemplify / Give Examples Provide evidence for a point or claim by describing an example and explaining its relevance.
Evaluate Make an appraisal of the worth of something, in the light of its truth or utility, including both advantages and limitations. Emphasize the views of authorities as well as your personal opinion. Also: ‘assess’.
Explain Clarify, interpret and account for the material you present. Give reasons for important features or developments, and try to analyze causes.
Identify Given a set of instances, pick out a particular subset.
Illustrate Use a figure or diagram to explain or clarify a problem, situation or view, or make clear by the use of concrete examples.
Interpret Explain the meaning of; make clear and explicit; give your own judgement.
Justify Prove, make out a case or give reasons for decisions and conclusions. Be convincing, show adequate grounds.
List Write an itemized series of concise statements. Also: ‘enumerate’.
Outline Provide a framework description of the main features or general principles of a subject, omitting minor details, and emphasizing structure, arrangement or classification of the material.
Prove Establish that something is true by citing factual evidence or giving clear logical reasons.
Relate Show how things are connected to each other, how one causes another, correlates with another, and to what extent they are alike, or affect each other.
Review Make a survey of, examining the subject critically, analysing and commenting on the important points or stages of development.
State Present in brief, clear form.
Summarize Give a concise account of the main points or facts of a matter, omitting details and examples.
Trace Follow the history, progress or development of a topic or a sequence of events from the point of origin.


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