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In my continuous efforts to address many issues faced by students appearing for professional exams, I found that majority of students doesn’t read and understand the questions properly before they answer. Professional exam papers are set in such a way that questions plays a vital role to judge the knowledge of students. Since, papers will focus more on concept level understanding of the subject, it is important that a professional student should know how to read and understand the question paper. In my experience in different capacities with the professional institute and as a trainer for professional courses, I thought of writing this article to help the students in understanding some of the important terminology/verbs which will be used in question.

It may be practical or theory questions, but the use of some of the key words in questions may indicate what the paper setter is exactly looking in the answers given by the students. Since, answers are to be very specific and give all the information what the examiner is looking for, it becomes important from the part of students to read and understand question properly. Always remember it is quality of answers and presentation skills which are very important to clear professional exams. In this article, I try to give you some of the tips as to how to read and understand some of the key words and accordingly how to present your answers so that you score good marks.

I would like to now bring your attention on some of the key word which is commonly used in questions and which is very important for students to understand before they write the answers –

DESCRIBE: Dictionary meaning is “to tell the facts, details or particulars of something”. Many time theory questions in exam will use the word DESCRIBE, this clearly means that the answer should give the key features about what it is asked for. Here focus is more on specifics and the paper setter is not interested for general answers. He is looking for more appropriate answers and wants the students to give the most important and justifiable facts about the question asked for.

For Eg.  Describe the weighted average pricing method?

Ans First give the formula for calculating weighted average, then you needs to give key features like, it is important that first we need to finalise on the period to assign weights and last you need to tell the advantages and disadvantages of this method.

DISTINGUISH: Dictionary meaning is “to point out an essential disparity”. Most of the time students doesn’t understand this word and gives unnecessary information. The intention of using such verb in question is to find whether student can bring about the main highlights of differences between.

For Eg. Distinguish between Financial Audit and Cost Audit?

In such question, your answer should clearly highlight the areas where differences exist like – Objective, Nature, Appointment, Periodicity, Report submission.

EXPLAIN: Dictionary meaning is “Clarify, Define”, “to make understandable the nature or meaning of something”. By asking Explain in the question, paper setter is looking at a student to make clear what is asked in the question. He expects students to bring out clear meanings asked for in the question and at the same time it will also test the students understanding potentiality. A student should bring out all the points relevant to the question and should substantiate his answers with definitions and examples. Depending upon marks, students are expected to give answers to such questions.

LIST: Dictionary meaning is “Make a  List of”. If  a question is asked to List out the advantages, limitations, characteristics etc, students should only list out the points  with out going for any explanation. List should be specific to question asked and try to present it as far as possible in bullet points. When you are listing out the points make sure that there is some sort of continuity from one point to another in the order.(Don’t try to explain each points you list as no extra marks for explanation will be awarded)

For Eg. List the various sub plans in Disaster Recovery Plan?

Ans – you need to list in order – Emergency Plan, Back up Plan, Recovery Plan and Test Plan

STATE : Dictionary meaning is “a way of living or existing”. In a question many times they use this word which means that they are testing as to what you think and feel about the particular statements. It is testing your presence of mind on the particular topic. Usually in True or False or where the examiners want to know whether the student has understood the concepts or not, will ask question by using state.

For Eg. State True or False, if False, support your answers with reasons. (Questions asked in CMA exams)

ILLUSTRATE : Dictionary meaning is” to give example in order to make easier to understand”. This is one way, an examiner tries to evaluate the examinees as to whether he knows to relate the concepts or not. Many time students know the subject but doesn’t know how to relate the same by using analytical and problem solving skills. By asking Illustrate, examiner is trying to find out that student has enough skill to relate the concept with appropriate examples. Usually law papers will have such type of questions, because the students are expected to know the relevant case laws as supporting to their main answers.

For Eg. What is Trade Parlance Theory? Illustrate the meaning with a valid Case Law.

Ans. Here examiner is not only asking a student to tell in general what is Trade Parlance  Theory, he is also expecting to explain Trade Parlance Theory with an example case. A student should answer this question with a case for eg. Godrej Industries ltd v/s CCEx 2008 and he need to bring out as to how the case was decided using Trade Parlance Theory as the main focus point.

(To continue in next article)

In case you need to share your views and want to get any help relating to examination, feel free contact through CAclubindia or write  to me at

You can also read my other articles at CAclubindia via link:



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CMA Raveendranath
Category Students   Report

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