ANSWER Strategy for Essay Tests

The following is a simple strategy for answering essay questions (and the occasional writing prompt) on an examination.  This strategy works best when coupled with the directive words listed last week. Hopefully, this strategy will help you ANSWER essay questions that you come across.

A: Analyze the action words in an essay question.

Take a look at “Understanding Directives in Writing” posted last week.  When you see any of these words (or words similar) in an essay question circle them in order to fully grasp what you are being asked to write about.
N: Notice the requirements.

Here you should mark key essay requirements by underlining them.  Now try to turn the essay question (or writing prompt) into your own words. Failure to note the requirements can lead to the problem of a good essay getting a bad score simply because there was a mismatch between the requirements of the instructor and your own writing.
S: Set up the outline.

Let’s take a minute and operationalize the requirements.  We are simply going to lust the main points of our potential essay in outline form.
W: Work in details.

For every main point that we listed in the previous step, we are now going to add details to the outline in order to expand the overall essay.
E: Engineer your answer

This step requires you to write out your essay, including an introductory sentence, detailed sentences about each of the main ideas (as listed in the outline) and summary (or conclusion) sentence(s).
R: Review your answer

Here is the time when you compare your actual answer with the requirements you underlined previously.  The goal is to match the requirements with your answer.  If this is done, then make sure and do some editing prior to turning in your essay.
Adapted from:

Woods-Groves. S., Therrien, W.J., Hua, Y., Hendrickson, J.M., Shaw, J.W. & Hughes, C. (2012). Effectiveness of an essay writing strategy for post-secondary students with developmental disabilities. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities 47 (2), 210-222.

Hughes, C.A., Schumaker, J.B., & Deshler, D.D. (2005). The Essay Test-Taking Strategy (1st ed). Lawrence, Kansas: Edge Enterprises, Inc.,

Understanding Directives for Writing and Answering Essay Questions

We have all turned in essay questions or writing assignments only to be shocked by notes from the instructor informing us that we did not understand or answer the question.  This is often due to a misunderstanding in the action (or directive) words used in the question or writing prompt.  In order to help get through this common college obstacle, I have included some of the more common directive words, as well as a brief explanation of the expectations each of these carries.  I hope this can help ameliorate (look it up) some of the confusion that certain writing prompts create.  Check back next week for an essay writing strategy that incorporates these directive words.

The following has been modified and adapted from:  Communication Skills Development Center, Division of Student Affair, University of South Carolina as found at http://www.history.ohio-state.edu/essayexm.htm January 2002

Compare: Examine qualities, or characteristics, to discover resemblances. "Compare" is usually stated as "compare with": you are to emphasize similarities, although differences may be mentioned.

Contrast: Stress dissimilarities, differences, or unlikeness of things, qualities, events, or problems.

Criticize: Express your judgment or correctness or merit. Discuss the limitations and good points or contributions of the plan or work in question.

Define: Definitions call for concise, clear, authoritative meanings. Details are not required but limitations of the definition should be briefly cited. You must keep in mind the class to which a thing belongs and whatever differentiates the particular object from all others in the class.

Describe: In a descriptive answer you should recount, characterize, sketch or relate in narrative form.

Diagram: For a question which specifies a diagram you should present a drawing, chart, plan, or graphic representation in your answer. Generally you are expected to label the diagram and in some cases add a brief explanation or description.

Discuss: The term discuss, which appears often in essay questions, directs you to examine, analyze carefully, and present considerations pro and con regarding the problems or items involved. This type of question calls for a complete and entailed answer.

Enumerate: The word enumerate specifies a list or outline form of reply. In such questions you should recount, one by one, in concise form, the points required.

Evaluate: In an evaluation question you are expected to present a careful appraisal of the problem stressing both advantages and limitations. Evaluation implies authoritative and, to a lesser degree, personal appraisal of both contributions and limitations.

Explain: In explanatory answers it is imperative that you clarify and interpret the material you present. In such an answer it is best to state the "how or why," reconcile any differences in opinion or experimental results, and, where possible, state causes. The aim is to make plain the conditions which give rise to whatever you are examining.

A question which asks you to illustrate usually requires you to explain or clarify your answer to the problem by presenting a figure, picture, diagram, or concrete example.

Interpret: An interpretation question is similar to one requiring explanation. You are expected to translate, exemplify, solve, or comment upon the subject and usually to give your judgment or reaction to the problem.

Justify: When you are instructed to justify your answer you must prove or show grounds for decisions. In such an answer, evidence should be presented in convincing form.

List: Listing is similar to enumeration. You are expected in such questions to present an itemized series or tabulation. Such answers should always be given in concise form.

Outline: An outline answer is organized description. You should give main points and essential supplementary materials, omitting minor details, and present the information in a systematic arrangement or classification.

Prove: A question which requires proof is one which demands confirmation or verification. In such discussions you should establish something with certainty by evaluating and citing experimental evidence or by logical reasoning.

Relate: In a question which asks you to show the relationship or to relate, your answer should emphasize connections and associations in descriptive form.

Review: A review specifies a critical examination. You should analyze and comment briefly in organized sequence upon the major points of the problem.

State:  In questions which direct you to specify, give, state, or present, you are called upon to express the high points in brief, clear narrative form. Details, and usually illustrations or examples, may be omitted.

Summarize: When you are asked to summarize or present a summarization, you should give in condensed form the main points or facts. All details, illustrations and elaboration are to be omitted.

Trace: When a question asks you to trace a course of events, you are to give a description of progress, historical sequence, or development from the point of origin. Such narratives may call for probing or for deduction.

Tips for Employment

The following was originally published in AHEAD’s newsletter Alert – April 2012 by By Dr. Michael McManmon, Founder of the College Internship Program, Author of “Made for Good Purpose”

When young adults with Learning Differences complete their college education, they will need support in key areas to land a meaningful job. After years of studying and taking exams, they are ready to find work in their field of interest. While finding employment may be difficult in these economic times, it is by no means impossible. There are several steps young adults with Asperger’s and other Learning Differences can take to find meaningful work.

Create a Vision

The first step towards finding meaningful work is to create a vision or imagine a field of work you are passionate about. Think about what interests and motivates you. You can begin to translate this vision into a job that is appealing and exciting for you.

Do Volunteer Work

To follow your vision or passion, try to find a volunteer job or an internship in your area of interest. For example, if you are interested in health care, you can volunteer at a hospital or local clinic. You can start to develop your workplace skills and begin to determine how they might benefit a potential employer.

Shadow Mentors and attend workshops

Once you acquire new skills through internships or volunteer work, you can shadow employees or mentors who work in your field of interest. You may also find jobs at an entry level in your desired field that are supported with a job coach who can help with your transition to the workplace. These key steps allow you to develop your skills and knowledge while building a solid resume. Career counselors and job coaches can also help arrange for you to attend appropriate workshops and seminars.

Refine your skills

You will need to refine the executive functioning skills necessary to succeed independently. Executive functioning is the ability to organize, plan and achieve goals, to prioritize and manage time. This involves the skills needed to navigate the workplace and social environments. It is also important to ask for help, advice and direction when necessary.

Stay motivated

Self-motivation also plays a role in successful employment. The ability to initiate tasks and work hard is appreciated by employers. You will need to make the transition from college or career training programs to ultimately work independently with minimal supervision.

Reach out in your community

Reaching out to people you know in the community or on your college campus is also a good way to find out what jobs are available. This is beneficial because it helps you make connections and learn what skills you might need to develop in order to find the job the you’re looking for.

Don’t give up

It’s important to keep in mind that during the job search, there may be pitfalls and challenges along the way. There will be potential employers that aren’t interested and won’t call you back. It’s a competitive world we live in and many people are competing for the same jobs. Nevertheless, with dedication and hard work it’s possible to find meaningful employment that is well suited to your skills and interests.

Using Kurzweil 3000 for SQ3R

I've written about SQ3R and SQ5R before. These are great ways to approach textbooks due to the manner in which text book material is organized.  This week, I want to address how a student who uses a text-to-speech program (like Kurzweil 3000).

This entry assumes that you are familiar with basic functions of Kurzweil 3000 (or Natural Reader).  If you are not, I recommend coming into the Adapted Computer Lab at Saddleback College in order to get a little training.

Note (words in bold are tools available in Kurzweil 3000)

Step #1: Survey
  • Use the Highlight tool to highlight headings, subheadings, etc.
    • It's a good idea to use different colors for headings and subheadings in order to see the differences when you extract.
  • Use the Extract function to save the color-coded headings into a new document in order to create an outline.
    • You can type directly into the extracted document, or you can cut and paste the information into MS Word
  • Use the Read function to have unfamiliar vocabulary words read back to you.
  • Look up vocabulary words using the Dictionary feature.
Step #2: Question
  • Use the extracted outline from Step #1 and type in questions created from the headings and subheadings.
  • Use the Sticky Note or Foot Note (this is more of a preference issues as to which you will choose) tool and write the questions created from the headings and subheading within the reading passage on the screen.
Step #3: Read
  • Use the Read tool and have the software read each section of the book. Adjust the speed and voice as needed.
  • Use Underline, Circle or Highlighter tool with a different color from the questions posed in Step #2 to mark the answers in the text. Extract the marked text and put inot the outline created in Step #1. (you will need to cut and paste at this point)
  • Write answers within the Sticky Notes or Foot Notes tool. Extract the answers and put them into the outline created in Step #1
Step #4: Recite
  • Use Audio Notes tool to record the main points and answers to the questions posed in Step 2.
    • If you do not have a microphone (though most newer computers do) then you will want to find an alternative means of accomplishing this step.
  • Use the Extracted Outline as a guide to test yourself.
Step #5: Review
  • listen to the Audio Notes created in Step #4. Look back at the extracted outline and notes to compare answers.
  • Use the Extracted outline and Notes to add details
  • Use the Read tool to listen to the text again.

This approach to SQ3R comes from:

Roberts, K., Takahashi, K., Hye-Jin, P., & Stodden, R. (2012). Supporting Struggling Readers in Secondary School Science Classes. Teaching Exceptional Children, 44(6). p. 40-48.


Robinson, F.P. (1970). Effective Study (4thed.) New York, NY: Harper & Row.