National 5 Modern Studies

Exam technique: command words

Command words are the words and phrases used in National 5 exams and other assessment tasks that tell students how they should answer the question. 

There are five types of questions used in the N5 Modern Studies exam paper and  you should be aware of how to respond to each of these command words or instructions.

  1. Describe, in detail…
  2. Explain, in detail…
  3. What conclusions can be drawn…
  4. You must decide which option to recommend
  5. Explain why the view… is supported or opposed

These 5 types of question are explored in more detail below.

Describe or explain in detail

Questions that ask candidates to describe or explain, in detail are 4, 6 or 8 mark questions.

Describe asks you to present a picture of something in words, highlighting important characteristics or features.  Explain requires you to provide facts or reasons to make something clear and understandable.

When answering these type of questions you gain marks by making points that are relevant, accurate and have a good level of detail.  It is important to be able to give examples to back up your answer, or refer to facts or data about the topic.  Another way to gain more marks is to be able to show the connections or interactions of various factors.

Try to draw on your knowledge of the topic to provide a more detailed explanation or description.  A single explanation which is well developed can gain up to 4 marks.

Examples from 2019 paper – Questions 1 and 3.

Q1  Describe, in detail, two devolved matters the Scottish Parliament has responsibility for. (4)

Q3  Explain, in detail, two reasons why political parties use the media during election campaigns in Scotland.  (6)

Drawing conclusions

Questions that require the candidate to use information or sources to draw conclusions are usually worth 10 marks.

A conclusion is the judgement or opinion you have arrived at after considering all the information.  It means making up your mind based on the facts or evidence provided and coming to a judgement or decision.

A useful tip is to base your conclusions on the headings/bullet points in the question.

To score maximum marks your conclusions must be supported by more than one piece of valid evidence drawn from two sources in the question, or from different parts of the same source.  Your conclusion should be presented as a judgement of the value, worth or effectiveness of something.

Being able to draw conclusions which show interaction between the sources is good way of scoring high in such questions.

Example from 2019 paper Q7

Using Sources 1, 2 and 3, what conclusions can be drawn about trade unions in the UK?  (10)

Recommending an option

This type of question requires the candidate to evaluate options using information provided in the question. You need to be able to draw conclusions, then decide which of the options to recommend. This type of question can be awarded up to 10 marks.

For full marks you must justify your decision/recommendation and explain why you have rejected the other option. You should provide facts and reasons to support the option you have chosen, as well as the one you have rejected.

Being able to draw conclusions which show interaction between the sources is good way of scoring highly in such questions.

Example from 2019 paper Q21

Using this information you must decide which option to recommend, either James Peddie (Option 1) or Elizabeth Sharp (Option 2).

(i)    Using Sources 1, 2 and 3, which option would you choose?

(ii)   Give reasons to support your choice.

(iii)  Explain why you did not choose the other option.          (10)

Giving arguments to support or oppose a view

This requires candidates to evaluate information/sources presented within the question to support or oppose a particular view. This type of question scores up to 10 marks.

In order to achieve full marks, all sources in the question must be used and you need to show evidence that supports the view, as well as evidence that opposes the view.

Make sure that you clearly justify why you are supporting the decision/recommendation, as well as explaining why you are rejecting the other option. If you only cover one of the options, the maximum you can be awarded is 8 marks.

Example from 2019 paper Q14

Using Sources 1, 2 and 3, give reasons to support and oppose the view of Ivy Jackson. (10)

In your answer you must:

  • give evidence from the sources that supports Ivy Jackson’s view, and
  • give evidence from the sources that opposes Ivy Jackson’s view.

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