Understand your assessment task

Before you start your assessment make sure you understand what you have been asked to do.

Read the question

Read the assessment question or task slowly and carefully. As you do, ask yourself:

  • What's the question about? What's the topic?
  • What does the question mean?
  • What do I have to do?

Try rewriting it using your own words using the format below:

‘This assessment is about ______________________ I have to___________________’

Also check for information about the assessment and what’s expected of you in your course materials, talk channels or messages from your course leader.


Analyse the question

Look at the question and identify the instruction, topic and limiting words.

Instruction words

Instruction words tell you what to do. Do you need to analyse, discuss, evaluate, summarise or something else?

Here’s some common instruction words:

  • Analyse – examine the main ideas and issues of a topic, look at arguments for or against, and show their relationships.
  • Describe – explain and explore the meaning or main features of something.
  • Discuss – examine and analyse key points and possible interpretations; give arguments for and against, and draw a conclusion.
  • Evaluate – give an opinion (with evidence) on the strength or weakness of something

Topic words

Topic words tell you what you need to write about – what you need to analyse, argue, discuss, and so on.

You can identify them by taking the instruction word and putting ‘what’ after them. For example, discuss what? Describe what?

Limiting words

Limiting words narrow down your topic and let you know what to focus on. This might be a certain time, place, or part of a topic.

Examples of instruction, topic and limiting words:

Diagram highlighting the different parts of an assessment question - instruction words, topic words and limiting words which are explained in the text below the diagram

  • Instruction – Critically examine – analyse the positive and negatives of
  • Topic – the Warehouse's marketing strategy – what you need to write about
  • Limiting words – the success – don't just describe the strategy, focus on how it is or is not successful. 

  • Instruction – Write a report / outline – ensure you follow an appropriate report format that gives a clear description and explanation
  • Topic – structural systems show in Building A and Building B – what you need to write about
  • Limiting words – the advantages and disadvantages of each system  make sure you cover each of these for A and B.


  • Instruction – Choose / compare – make sure you are comparing two things, and not just describing them in isolation
  • Topic – two education philosophers – what you need to write about
  • Limiting words – how their philosophies have influenced education today – focus on how each of these philosophies have influenced modern education. 

Tip – When you find something about the assessment in your course materials or course talk channel, bookmark it and keep a note of it. This will help you when you start your research.



Related information


Got a question?

If you want to talk with someone about understanding your assessment task, contact The Library and Learning Centre | Te Whare Pukapuka Wāhanga Whakapakari Ako. 

Contact the Library and Learning Centre