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GCSE Exam Command Words

Updated: Oct 16, 2021

What are GCSE command words?

They are the words and phrases used in exams that tell students how they should answer the question, so kind of important!

If you want to score top grades in your GCSEs then answering the question correctly is going to be important, right? But before you can apply your subject knowledge to the answer, it is vital that you understand what is being asked - that's where exam command words come in. For example, what are you being asked to do if the questions says to 'compare and contrast' - the examiner is using words like this to prompt you to answer in different ways.

Here is a list of common command words from two of the major exam-boards to help you familiarise yourself before your GCSE exams:

​Command Word

AQA Definition

Edexcel Definition


Break down the content of a topic, or issue, into its constituent elements in order to provide an in-depth account and convey an understanding of it.

Examine in detail to discover the meaning or essential features of a theme, topic or situation. Break something down into its components, examine factors to recognise patterns by applying concepts and making connections to predict consequences.


Add to a diagram, image or graphic a number of words that describe and/or explain features, rather than just identify them (which is labelling).


​Consider several options or arguments and weigh them up so as to come to a conclusion about their effectiveness or validity.

​Read the information in the question carefully and pick out the most important parts to help you answer the question or come to a conclusion


Work out the value of something.

​Work out your answer using the numbers in the question. Include units in your answer

​Compare and Contrast

​Identify similarities and/or differences.

​Give similarities and differences between several things, not just one


Often occurs before ‘Assess’ or ‘Evaluate’ inviting an examination of an issue from the point of view of a critic with a particular focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the points of view being expressed.

​Define (What is meant by…)

​State the precise meaning of an idea or concept. There is usually a low tariff of marks for this.


​Give an account in words of a phenomenon which may be an entity, an event, a feature, a pattern, a distribution or a process. For example, if describing a landform say what it looks like, give some indication of size or scale, what it is made of, and where it is in relation to something else (field relationship).

​Give an account of something, or link facts, information, events or processes in a logical order.


​Set out both sides of an argument (for and against), and come to a conclusion related to the content and emphasis of the discussion. There should be some evidence of balance, though not necessarily of equal weighting.

​Pick out the situation or argument in the question, explore all aspects of it, investigate it and come to a conclusion


​Consider several options, ideas or arguments and come to a conclusion about their importance/ success/ worth.

​Look at the information in the question and bring it together to make a decision and come to a conclusion with evidence from the question.


​Consider carefully and provide a detailed account of the indicated topic.

Explain.., Why.., Suggest reasons for...

​Set out the causes of a phenomenon and/or the factors which influence its form/nature. This usually requires an understanding of processes. Explanation is a higher-level skill than description and this is often reflected in its greater mark weighting.

​Say how or why something happens; ‘because’ will be an important part of your answer. State and explain = Make a point and link ideas to justify that point.


​Ascribe meaning.


​Give reasons for the validity of a view or idea why some action should be undertaken. This might reasonably involve discussing and discounting alternative views or actions. Each of the views present or options available will have positives and negatives. For the outcome(s) chosen, the positives outweigh the negatives. Students should be able to explain all of this review process.

​Give evidence to support an answer.

​Outline (summarise)

​Provide a brief account of relevant information


​Use analysis of data to evaluate options and make a justified advisory decision. Instruction ‘with justification’ should be included with the question


​Present a possible case/solution.

​Always used with another command word, e.g. Suggest an explanation. Suggest tells you that you need to apply your knowledge to a new situation, and in this case to give a possible explanation

The above is are some of the broader exaples of exam command words, but this is not an exhaustive list. Many exam boards will even have a separate list of command word per subject, so we recommend a search on your exam board's website to familiarise yourself with their full definitions.

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