INCLUDING THE “HOW FAR” QUESTION
KNOWING WHAT TO WRITE
• If you want to write a good essay, you should first become familiar
with the sorts of questions you might get asked.
• In the following presentation, I will show you how to answer to some
of the very common forms of questions that teachers and examiners
1. PURE DESCRIPTION
• These sorts of questions are easy to answer.
• Your question might say something like:
Describe how the use of propaganda helped Hitler to come to power.
Describe how the French Revolution was helpful to the working classes.
• With the pure description question, you need to describe a particular
theme, character, or event, and the effect of this.
• This is a straightforward type of question. Do not just describe the
event or theme and give a boring retelling of the storyline.
• Think about what might be the most important of all the things that
you are describing and emphasise that in the essay.
2. THE DOUBLE WHAMMY
• A double whammy question is one essay question but it has two
distinct parts. What the teacher/examiner is expecting you to do is to
answer each part of the question. Here is one example:
Discuss the reasons for Hitler’s Final Solution. Why did Hitler focused on the Jews?
• Unless you are told otherwise, you should assume that you spend half
of the essay dealing with the first part of the question, and half of the
essay dealing with the second question (questions can have 2 different
parts in one phrase).
• The clue for not doing this is if you see the word BRIEFLY. For
example: Briefly discuss the reasons for Hitler’s Final Solution. Why did Hitler focused on the
Jews? Then, first part should be brief and the rest should be in details.
3. THE THINK CRITICAL
• This is the classic essay question, because it wants you to write an in-
depth and well-argued answer. This sort of question does not want
you just to retell the events, or write something there.
• The THINK CRITICAL is wanting you to take a firm stand and make a
strong claim, and then write an informative answer showing the
marker why this is so.
• A big clue in these questions is the word ANALYSE or EXAMINE in the
question. Sometimes the word CRITICALLY might also be in:
Critically analyse how Shakespeare uses humour to sway the audience in the play Much
Ado About Nothing.
• Your job is not only to think about the times that Shakespeare uses
humour in the play and how it affects the audience.
3. THE THINK CRITICAL cont.
• You also need to consider the following:
• How effective are the instances when humour is employed?
• Does humour really influence the audience and side them with one character or another?
• Are there times when Shakespeare (or whoever author) uses humour more effectively than at others?
• You are being asked to THINK in the THINK CRITICAL question.
• Decide which is the best idea and why. Or the most effective and why.
• All the time you are demonstrating that you are thinking carefully
about this material you are writing your essay on what you read.
4. THE QUOTE
• An important quote is picked from a book or play and set as an essay
topic. Here are some examples.
If you work hard and you do your best, you can do anything. Discuss.
Formula for success: rise early, work hard, strike oil. Discuss.
Everyone's dream can come true if you just stick to it and work hard. Discuss.
• All these sorts of questions are asking you to do the same thing.
• The question that teacher/examiner is setting is so broad they are
presenting it like a challenge. Challenging you to see what you can
make of it. These are fun questions, because you have the opportunity
to really take ownership of them.
5. THE “WHAT MAKES” QUESTION
• Sometimes you get a question that suggests a particular view, good or
bad, about the topic. For example:
What makes Romeo such a likeable character in the play/film?
• It does not matter what words the teacher/examiner drops in the
question. The style of the question remains the same. You have 2 choices.
• A) Write an essay arguing the points WHY Romeo is such a likeable
character in the play/film.
• B) Write an essay saying why you DO NOT find Romeo such a likeable
character - and instead find him a dislikeable character - and argue the
points why this is so.
6. THE “HOW DOES” QUESTION
• It is a variation of the “what makes” question. The important difference is
that the teacher/examiner is wanting you to discuss the techniques that
the writer/playwright/filmmaker uses to create a particular effect.
How does Tolstoy create such a memorable atmosphere in the book?
• It is not just WHAT a writer says that is important, but HOW they
• In this case, your job is not to write about interesting scenes in the book
War and Peace, but to write about the WAYS that Tolstoy creates the
powerful atmosphere in the book.
• Each of the techniques can be a separate paragraph.
7. THE “HOW FAR” QUESTION
• This is the favourite question for History teachers/examiners. In this
question you are asked:
How far did Europe suffer in the years of Great Depression?
How far did Germany change in the years after 1850?
How far did Napoleon change in the years before his death?
• This question is to assess to what degree something was achieved or not.
• The teacher/examiner DON’T want you to blindly agree with the
direction of the question.
• They want you to think about to what extent the statement in the
question was achieved.
7. THE “HOW FAR” QUESTION cont.
• In your essay, they want you to discuss the ways in which the statement
expressed in the question was true AND the extent to which the
statement was or was not achieved.
• They want you to discuss BOTH sides of the question: the way it was
achieved, and the way it might not have been.
• In conclusion of your essay they are looking for you to restate the
question in your own words, based on the information you have
presented in the essay:
While we might say Nationalism was successful in the years prior to WW1, as this
essay has shown, Nationalism’s greatest success was to emerge in the years
following conflict when wider democracy supported nationalistic ideals.
• For any approach to your essay question, think through WHAT IS THE
MOST IMPORTANT POINT you are making.
• There are a number of things that we could talk about in an essay, but
they are not all of equal importance in our mind.
• Knowing what to say in an essay is made easier if you can think about
WHAT’S the MOST IMPORTANT thing I want to say. And then say it.