De-coding exam questions

BBA INSET DAY: LITERACY

Teachers working together

On Monday 8th April staff at BBA spent the afternoon in Literacy workshops designed to help deliver more thoughtful literacy provision across the school. A number of workshops were organised by the Literacy Working Party with staff opting to attend a workshop of their choice.

De-coding exam questions workshop

This workshop was aimed at identifying possible barriers that students face when attempting to answer exam questions.


Staff in the workshop came up with the following:



  • Meaning of command words
  • Meaning of subject specific words
  • Meaning of 'examiner type' words
  • Scanning the question rather then taking time to read and digest the question



Possible solutions

Below are some strategies that teachers felt needed to be taught to students:


  • Definitions of key command words - what does 'describe', 'explain' & 'analyse' actually mean. This should be embedded earlier in KS3.
  • Model answers using writing frames.
  • Encouraging students to 'ask questions of the question' - break long answer questions down into smaller chunks.
  • Spend time reading through a question identifying what it is actually asking.
  • Highlighting of key words.
  • Peer assessment / marking so students get experience of seeing a mark scheme and begin to understand what examiners are looking for.
  • Identify number of marks available for a question how that may influence the answer.
  • Conceptualising key command words to help students understand their meaning.