Key Words In Question Papers Of CSS, PMS & PCS

By Saeed Khan Wazir.

Competitive exams (CSS, PMS, PCS and other sort of commission exams) are different from academic exams on the basis of syllabus, paper setting, assessment and evaluation, and the ratio of success and failure.

Interestingly in the compulsory and optional papers of CSS, PCS and PMS,the nature of questions asked tends to require holistic understanding and tactful handling. The questions carry different, complex terminologies, words, terms, command words and phrases that create confusion resulting in lack of clinical understanding and ultimately unsatisfactory performance despite the fact students have sound knowledge and systematic preparation.

For facilitating aspiring candidates to unpack questions in a more comprehensive way, this write-up  is based on critical analysis of key exam words. In the coaching academies and learning centers, more focus is directed on theoretical aspects instead of practical technicalities which are the hallmarks of success. Keeping this in mind, this piece of writing is a useful read for competitive students.


Take apart an idea, concept or statement and examine and criticize its sub-parts in detail. You have to be methodical and logical. Break an issue into its constituent parts. Look in depth at each part using supporting arguments and evidence for and against as well as how these interrelate to one another.


Describe a topic’s positive and negative aspects and say how useful or successful it is, or consider its contribution to
knowledge, events or processes (this is usually about how important something is).Weigh up to what extent something is true. Persuade the reader of your argument by citing relevant research but also remember to point out any flaws and counter-arguments as well. Conclude by stating clearly how far you are in agreement with the original proposition.


Literally make something clearer and, where appropriate, simplify it. This could involve, for example, explaining in simpler terms a complex process or theory, or the relationship between two variables.

Comment on/upon

Pick out the main points on a subject and give your opinion, reinforcing your point of view using logic and reference to relevant evidence, including any wider reading you have done. Both pros and cons are presented based on one’s critical thinking.


Identify the similarities and differences between two or more phenomena. Say if any of the shared similarities or differences are more important than others. ‘Compare’ and ‘contrast’ will often feature together in an essay question.


Similar to compare but concentrate on the dissimilarities between two or more phenomena, or what sets them apart. Point out any differences which are particularly significant.


Say what you think and have observed about something. Back up your comments using appropriate evidence from external sources, or your own experience. Include any views which are contrary to your own and how they relate to what you originally thought.

Critically Evaluate

Give your verdict as to what extent a statement or findings within a piece of research are true, or to what extent you agree with them. Provide evidence taken from a wide range of sources which both agree with and contradict an argument. Come to a final conclusion, basing your decision on what you judge to be the most important factors and justify how you have made your choice.

A critical evaluation of a subject will warrant an assertive essay response that details the extent to which you agree with a set of findings, a theory, or an argument. You need to present a critique of, alternative perspectives. State your conclusion clearly and state the reasons for this conclusion, drawing on factors and evidence that informed your perspective. Also try to justify your position in order to present a convincing argument to the reader.


Point out a topic’s mistakes or weaknesses as well as its favourable aspects. Give a balanced answer (this will involve some analysis first).


The key to tackling ‘demonstrate’ questions is to use several examples, evidence, and logical arguments. Essentially, you are required to show how a particular research topic or argument is valid by using evidence and arguments to support your claim.


To give in precise terms the meaning of something. Bring to attention any problems posed with the definition and different interpretations that may exist.


Provide a detailed explanation as to how and why something happens.


Essentially this is a written debate where you are using your skill at reasoning, backed up by carefully selected evidence to make a case for and against an argument, or point out the advantages and disadvantages of a given context. Remember to arrive at a conclusion. All aspects like political,social,cultural and economic dynamics are explored.


Look in close detail and establish the key facts and important issues surrounding a topic. This should be a critical evaluation and you should try and offer reasons as to why the facts and issues you have identified are the most important, as well as explain the different ways they could be construed.

A close examination of a research topic or argument requires that you establish the key facts and important issues concerning the topic or argument by looking at them in close detail. This means that you must adopt a very critical approach with ‘examine’ question words.

You should also try to provide some context on why the issues and facts that you have closely examined are important. Have these issues and facts been examined differently by other scholars? If so, make a note of this. How did they differ in their approach and what are the factors that account for these alternative approaches?

‘Examine’ questions are less exploratory and discursive than some other types of question. They focus instead on asking you to critically examine particular pieces of evidence or facts to inform your analysis.


Clarify a topic by giving a detailed account as to how and why it occurs, or what is meant by the use of this term in a particular context. Your writing should have clarity so that complex procedures or sequences of events can be understood; defining key terms where appropriate, and be substantiated with relevant research.

Give an account of

Means give a detailed description of something. Not to be confused with ‘account for’ which asks you not only what, but why something happened.


Adopt a questioning approach and consider a variety of different viewpoints. Where possible reconcile opposing views by presenting a final line of argument.


Determine what are the key points to be addressed and implications thereof.


A similar instruction to ‘explain’ whereby you are asked to show the workings of something, making use of definite examples and statistics if appropriate to add weight to your explanation.


Demonstrate your understanding of an issue or topic. This can be the use of particular terminology by an author, or what the findings from a piece of research suggest to you. In the latter instance, comment on any significant patterns and causal relationships. 


Make a case by providing a body of evidence to support your ideas and points of view. In order to present a balanced argument, consider opinions which may run contrary to your own before stating your conclusion.

With ‘justify’ question words, you need to explain the basis of your argument by presenting the evidence that informed your outlook. In such answers, you need to present your evidence in a convincing way, demonstrating good reasons for adopting your position. Here, a critical approach becomes crucial. You need to explain why other possible arguments are unsatisfactory as well as why your own particular argument is preferable.


Convey the main points placing emphasis on global structures and interrelationships rather than minute detail. 


Look thoroughly into a subject. This should be a critical assessment and not merely descriptive.


Give a condensed version drawing out the main facts and omit superfluous information. Brief or general examples will normally suffice for this kind of answer.


An answer to a ‘review’ question word should demonstrate critical examination of a subject or argument. This is done by recapping or summarizing the major themes or points in question, and critically discussing them while giving your opinion.

Put another way, ‘review’ questions entail offering your opinion on the validity of the essay question. For example, you may be asked to review the literature on electoral reform in Pakistan. You’ll need to give an overview of the literature and any major arguments or issues that arose from it. You then need to comment logically and analytically on this material. What do you agree or disagree with? What have other scholars said about the subject? Are there any views that contrast with yours? What evidence are you using to support your assessment? Don’t forget to state your position clearly.

Review answers should not be purely descriptive; they must demonstrate a high level of analytical skill. The aim is not simply to regurgitate the works of other scholars, but rather to critically analyze these works.

To what Extent 

Evokes a similar response to questions containing ‘How far…‘. This type of question calls for a thorough assessment of the evidence in presenting your argument. Explore alternative explanations where they exist.

Understanding questions properly and presenting one’s answers in a convincing and comprehensive manner need extensive reading and continued writing practice. As an instructor of English language and literature, students of academic as well as competitive exams shy away from these salient features of handwork and smart study. Based on my personal experience, coaching academies and personal tutors or instructors should be prioritized as guidance and supervision are the sine qua non of success story. Building vocabulary and developing professional writing skills need time, energy, patience and commitment. The best way out is unflinching efforts and struggle.


About Author:
The writer contributes to different English Dailies and Magazines. He specializes in English Linguistics and Literature and teaches CSS and PMS English Essay and Précis papers at CSS PMS Knowledge Builders, a well-reputed forum for competitive exams students. He can be reached at

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