Test-Taking Vocabulary

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Describe Huck Finn.

When you're asked to describe, you need to give specific and relevant details about something, or write more information about it. For example:

Describe Huck Finn's personality.
Huck is smart in an unconventional way. For example, to escape his violent father, he faked his own death in a clever scheme. His relationship with Jim also shows that he is caring.

When a prompt asks you to identify something, you need to find or recognize whatever the question is asking for. So if you see the word identify, you'll know that the answer is already there on the page--you just have to find it. For example:

Identify the grammatical error in this sentence:
Dolphins are beautiful, they are my favorite animal.

There should not be a comma between the two clauses. It is a comma splice. Instead, there should be a period or semicolon.

Explain is similar to describe, but it involves a little bit more description of why something is the way it is. When you explain, make sure to include important and relevant details that support your reasons. Questions that include explain usually require a response of at least a paragraph, and often more. For example:

Explain why many people believe that the results of World War I led to World War II.
Some historians argue that the Treaty of Versailles was too harsh on Germany and that by crippling Germany, the treaty helped cause the conditions that allowed Hitler to rise to power. (You could go on to give more specific details about this point.)

You can infer that you'll be getting a surprise party.

Infer is a fancy word for making an educated guess. When you make an inference, you draw a conclusion by putting together the pieces of evidence provided, and you find the implied meaning. Like a detective, you have to figure out what's going on because it wasn't said directly. Make sure that your inference is based on the evidence; as long as you look at the evidence, there could be multiple correct inferences. For example:

It's your birthday and your mom won't let you come home till 6 p.m. Your friends have been whispering and smiling a lot lately. What can you infer?
My mom and friends are likely throwing me a surprise party.
Develop is a test-taking word that often signals that you're about to do a good amount of writing. When you develop something, you say more about it and expand it into something larger. In the same way that a baby develops and grows into an adult, when you develop an idea, you explain the different parts of it in greater detail and it becomes more significant. ‬For example:

Jake is an excellent visual artist and Jaoquim is a talented public speaker. They are both good friends with Martin, who is running for school president. Develop a plan that uses both of their skills in the candidate's campaign.
Your specific plan would include lots of details explaining how Martin's campaign could use Jake's visual art skills and Joaquim's public speaking skills.

When you are asked to evaluate something, you need to make a thoughtful judgment about it. You're being asked to determine the value or significance of something. When a doctor evaluates a patient, she looks at all the important parts of his body and then forms an overall opinion about whether the patient is well or sick. When critics review a movie or album, they are evaluating it. Similarly, when you are writing the answer to an "evaluate" question, you should give opinions about specific parts of what you need to judge and then reach an overall conclusion. For example:

Evaluate the spring musical for the school newspaper.
(In your review, you would give details about the singing, orchestra, sets, musical numbers, dancing, etc. Then you'd reach an overall conclusion, or evaluation, about whether the musical is good or bad.)

Compare and contrast U.S. and Chinese policy.

When you compare two things, you say how they are similar, and when you contrast, you say how the two things are different. Get specific in your comparison and contrast by referencing details from the two things you're discussing. These two words often come in a pair. If you need to write a compare and contrast essay, spend the first section writing about similarities, and the second section writing about differences. (Note: If a question just uses "compare," you should feel free to talk about similarities and differences. But if it just says "contrast," only talk about the differences.) For example:

Compare and contrast the current international policies of the United States and China.
An answer would begin by saying what the U.S. and China have in common when it comes to their international policies, and then it would go on to describe differences.

If you're asked to justify something, you need to provide factual information and evidence to show why something is right or true. Make sure that you explain how your supporting details prove, or justify, your point. For example:

Do you think that Romeo and Juliet were truly in love? Justify your answer with specific lines from the play.
If you answered that they truly were in love, you'd have to find lines from Romeo and Juliet that support your answer, and then explain why you think lines prove that Romeo and Juliet were in love. And if you have the opposite opinion, you'll still have to find lines to support it.

Depending on how it is used, the word outline can be used literally or figuratively, asking you to do two different things. If you're asked to make an outline or outline an essay, you should organize your thoughts for an essay in a rough list format so that you'll know what to write once you start the actual essay. In this case, you don't need to use complete sentences. But if you're asked to briefly outline your ideas or outline what happened, this is more figurative, and here you're being asked to give a brief description, including only the most important details. (If you're not sure which "outline" you are supposed to do, ask your teacher!) For example:

TYPE 1: Outline an essay about the different models of the atom.
I. Introduction: Mention the different models and the idea that they changed through history.
II. The Rutherford Model & details about this model
III. The Bohr Model, details about it, and what was different from Rutherford's
IV. The Cloud Model, details about it, and how it changed from the first two
V. Conclusion, and information about current atomic modeling

TYPE 2: Briefly outline the three important atomic models.
The Rutherford model of the atom determined that the atom is mostly made out of empty space, and the nucleus is tiny. The Bohr model showed that electrons orbited around the nucleus in rings. And the cloud model represents probable electron locations in a large spotty cloud around the nucleus.

When you summarize something, you should write about the main points in a brief form. When you're asked to just write a summary (without a full essay), you may want to include a few brief, specific examples. But if you're asked to summarize the main points from a larger essay that you wrote, you can just paraphrase your key points. For example:

Summarize the plot of The Great Gatsby.
Nick moves in next to door to the exquisitely rich Jay Gatsby. Over the course of a summer, he befriends Gatsby and his crew of wealthy friends. After undertaking an affair with Daisy, wife of Tom Buchanan, Gatsby is shot and killed. Even though hundreds of people came to his opulent parties, his funeral is sparsely attended.

Like fortune tellers and weathermen, when you're asked to predict, you should make a guess about what will happen next. Like fortune tellers and weathermen, you might be wrong. But you should explain what information led you to make your prediction. For example:

Based on the attendance of last year's prom and survey data about how much students enjoyed it, predict how many students will attend the prom this year.
When you make your prediction, you should support your answer with numbers and data from the previous prom.

What can you conclude about the weather?

When you conclude, you reach a decision or result after evaluating different ideas. The conclusion should be based on facts, and you should explain how you came to the decision based on those facts. A conclusion is similar to an inference, since different people can look at the same facts and make different informed conclusions or inferences. For example:

When you got on the subway, it was sunny outside. As you exit the subway, you can see that people entering have wet shoes and are carrying wet umbrellas. What can you conclude about the weather now?
It started raining since you got on the subway.

When you interpret, you explain the meaning of words, actions or information. People can have different interpretations of the same facts, so it is important to explain why you think that something has the meaning you say. For example:

Interpret the meaning of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18.
In your answer, you would refer to specific lines and explain their meaning and why you think they have that meaning.

Evidence isn't just clues at a crime scene. When you use facts to support your point or conclusion, that's evidence. Depending on your topic, evidence can take the form of words, actions, images and more. And you should always explain how your evidence supports the point. For example:

Who do you think was the greatest President of the United States? Use specific evidence to support your opinion.
No matter who you pick, you'll have to use evidence of the President's actions and traits to explain why he is the greatest one.

You can analyze the causes of the Civil War.

The word analysis means the separation of a whole into parts. So when you analyze something, you're breaking a larger idea down into sections and explaining how each part relates to the others. When you see "analyze" in a question, chances are you'll have to write an essay. For example:

Analyze the causes of the Civil War, and then explain which cause was most significant.
In your analysis, you should explain details about the different causes, and then using those details, form an opinion about which cause was more significant.

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