Dissecting the Question.

Obviously one of the things that most impacts the mark you receive for a question is how much of the question you have answered.

Yes, this seems very obvious but it is an area where many students lose marks.

Often an exam question is made up of a number of parts, or “sub-questions.”

It is crucial to "dissect" or "break down" the question into it's sub-questions. You then answer each of the parts.

What is a Sub-question?

To illustrate this I will use a simple example. It may seem to be pretty dumb, but that is just my sense of humour at work ;-) I like to use stupid examples as I feel it helps students remember techniques.

The Dumb Question:

I have 3 pets; a rat, a cat and a koala. What do you think they eat and where do they sleep?

A koala

This question has 6 parts or "Sub-questions." Can you see them?

To get full marks you need to answer all 6 sub-questions well.

You need to structure your writing to answer all 6 parts.

I will use a mind-map to layout the problem. This helps you visualise the way that parts of a problem are connected. Mind-maps are explained in the technique "Mind-Maps - Break a Problem Down into it's Elements."

Here, there are two ways you can lay out the information. You group it either by animal or by activity. It does not matter which you use. The important thing is to put this amount of structure into your answer. This first mind-map lays out the problem by animal and then by activity.

How to answer the question properly

This second mind-map lays out the problem by activity and then by animal.

How should I structure my answer?

The next step is to lay out your answer.

The answer could be something like:

The format of my exam answer

You can see from this example that we are answering all 6 sub-questions. We have also laid it out in a way that is professional and should help the person marking it to find the information they are looking for. This should help you get more of the marks that are allocated to each of the sub-questions.


What is dissecting a question?