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Academic English Skills

Resources to Assist with Improving Academic English and Study Skills

Exam Preparation

Examinations are a big part of your academic assessment at TOP. As well as studying your course materials, there are a number of ways that you can prepare for exams. Here are some tips and resources to help you revise and effectively prepare. 

Clue Words Explained

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What are Clue Words?

Most essay or short-answer questions contain a clue word, used to indicate how the question should be answered. Clue words are very important as they tell you exactly what to do in the essay.

Identifying Clue Words

To successfully answer an exam question, you need to be able to identify and understand the exact meaning of clue words.

Example question: Compare and contrast the Australian Higher Education system with that of China.

Clue words: Compare and contrast

If the question asked you to “Evaluate the Australian and the Chinese Higher Education systems”, a completely different answer would be required.

Table of Clue Words that test BASIC KNOWLEDGE

Clue Word


 Compare /  Contrast

To show the similarities and differences.


To give the formal/precise meaning of something.

 Demonstrate /  Illustrate To show make clear by using examples or diagrams.


To provide a detailed account.

 Explain To make a topic clear by giving a step-by-step detailed account, including reasons for how or why something is.
 Identify To state or proivde the information asked for, with reference to its key points and their implications. 


Name or identify a number of factors or key points.


To describe the main features or general principles and how they are related in an organised way.


To describe the main points in clear terms, without being overly descriptive. Use brief, clear sentences.


 To give a short, condensed account of the main ideas.

Table of Clue Words that test CRITICAL THINKING

Clue Word



To look further at an issue or topic than simply describing or explaining it. Highlight the main ideas and look at each one in depth, how they are related and why they are important.

 Apply To use a theoretical concept or principle and relate it to the information provided.

 Argue / Discuss

To present the case for and/or against a particular idea, perspective or opinion and come to a conclusion. Arguments must be supported by appropriate evidence.

 Comment on To give an opinion. Discuss, criticise or explain the meaning of something, using relevant supporting evidence.

 [Critically]  Evaluate

To assess the validity of an argument or conclusion and to give an opinion, supported by expert opinions and evidence. Come to a final conclusion, basing the decision on what is judged to be the most important factors and provide justification. 

 [Critically]  Examine

To look at a topic in detail and establish the key facts and important issues surrounding the topic. This should be a critical evaluation, with a clear perspective and evidence to support this view.


To explore the meaning of a concept, demonstrating understanding and giving judgment or coming to a conclusion.


To give a statement of why something is so, providing justification for this opinion.

 Review To consider, analyse or explain the main points. This should be a critical assessment and not just a description.

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