First and foremost, remember, there is no single “perfect” way of writing an answer, and there are many ways to write a good answer, just like there are many different recipes for a good meal.
However, in this article, I will break down how to develop a high-scoring answer into few easy steps and explain this process in detail.
Before that, remember that your answer must prove itself on three criteria:
- Clarity of thought: Which comes with conceptual clarity and your level of preparation
- Range of application: How holistic is your treatment of the question, which, once again, depends on your preparation. Remember, anthropology is a holistic, comparative and historical science and this paradigm should be reflected in your answers too, should the questions demand.
- Power of expression: This is your ability to communicate in simple, lucid and clear language, so much so that when a novice reads through your answer, it should make sense to him or her. Achieving simplicity does not just entail a command in the language but also on the subject, quality of your preparation and your ability to express your thoughts in the chosen medium of language for this exam.
Let us examine some specific points that you should consider.
Identify Keywords in the Question – WHAT Topic IS THIS QUESTION CONCERNING?
UNDERLINE OR MENTALLY HIGHLIGHT WHAT IS IT THAT YOU ARE REQUIRED TO DO? Required to EXPLAIN? SHOULD WE COMPARE AND CONTRAST? ARE YOU Asked TO CRITICALLY COMMENT ON A TOPIC? WHAT INSTRUCTIONS ARE IN THE QUESTION?
I’ll give you many examples of words used in questions.
- “DISCUSS”: A discussion on something is the only way to come to an understanding of a topic after presenting multiple sides of an argument and discussing their respective merits. To put it more simply, an examiner anticipates that you will explore different points of view and provide a sensible explanation. You need to think about opposite forces, various ideas and diverse points of view, such as “advantages vs. disadvantages” or “strengths vs. weaknesses.”. Sometimes you may be expected to explain multiple factors that relate to something. For example, the 2017 question “DISCUSS the genetic and non-genetic factors in the bio-cultural adaptation of human beings to different environments” wants you to explain all the multiple factors related to human adaptation to environment. The question is also specifically asking you to organise or classify these factors under the discreet headings of genetic factors and non-genetic factors.
- “EXPLAIN”: Explain basically means to tell someone WHY something occurs, or HOW something happened. You can also explain the consequences of something. It is expected of a candidate in this situation to clarify any phenomenon with key details and consequences. For example, the 2019 question “Explain how Buddhism influenced the economic and cultural transformations of Indian Society” is a very straightforward type of question, asking you to explain how it took place, and what it resulted in.
- “ELUCIDATE”: To clarify or explain in greater depth, typically by providing detailed examples, is to elucidate. When examiners give us this instruction, they are asking us a cause-and-effect connection to analyse. In these kinds of situations, you need to make the relationship between the two ideas more obvious by pointing to facts and providing examples. For example, the 2014 question “Elucidate the skeletal differences between humans and chimpanzees.” expects you to give detailed examples of these differences, and if possible show them with line diagrams to compare these differences. In Anthropology, you will sometimes get these type of questions around topics that have current affairs too.
- “EXAMINE”: The action of delving more deeply into a subject and gaining a comprehensive understanding of that subject is what is meant by the word “Examine.” In this type of question, the candidate is expected to look into the topic in question and clarify the important facts and issues associated with it. You might make comparisons, draw parallels, and give examples. For example, the 2020 question “Examine the impact of feminist movement on universality of marriage and family structure” expects you to dwell comprehensively in the context specified.
- “EVALUATE”: These questions will definitely mean that you should write about “strengths vs. weaknesses” or “advantages vs. disadvantages” when answering this question because you are expected to present all sides of the argument. However, if the question asks your opinion, you can present a conclusion in which you select the alternative that is most suitable to the circumstances and explain why you selected it. For example, the 2019 question “Evaluate participant observation in producing anthropological knowledge” is asking you to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of this method of data collection in the context of ethnographic research.
- Similar to this- When a question says “CRITICALLY EVALUTE” OR “CRITICALLY EXAMINE” they are asking you to make a determination based on an overall review of the advantages and disadvantages, or the positives and negatives, backed up by facts or examples. It may also entail an in-depth examination or evaluation of a concept or a theory and any other situation. This is similar to “evaluate” type questions, and the examiner requires a balanced opinion in these types of questions. A person needs to be able to exercise their sense of reasoning and present evidence before they can arrive at a decision or conclusion when they are doing a critical evaluation. For example, the 2015 question “Critically examine Darwin’s theory of evolution in understanding evolution”.
- “CRITICALLY COMMENT”. This is usually asking for you to make a judgement after putting together pros and cons, or strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, critical comments are asked to be done on a statement made by a famous anthropologist, or a decision or policy made, but that may not always be the case. When you are given the task of analysing a problem or a statement, it is anticipated that you would break down the statement and link it to the topics and information you learnt, and make a judgement on this. For example, the 2015 question “Recently non-government organizations have been critiqued for interfering with developmental process in tribal heartland. Critically comment”. Many aspirants are scared of these types of questions that ask for a critical evaluation, critical examination or to critically comment on a statement, but I always say they are very interesting to write because they require the heart of anthropological thinking, and connecting the dots. For example “Define family and critically examine universality of family.” Another word of caution is not to assume critical evaluation or critical analysis implies criticism. This is not so and the term critical here translates to looking at something closely or intensely.
- “JUSTIFY”. This is quite rarely asked, and the word justify indicates that you are required to provide arguments to support your answer. If they ask you to justify an opinion type question, you should outline the benefits or the positives of anything, and how it may solve a problem. They may also give you a statement and ask you to justify if the scholar is right in his / her opinion. Like for example, Pitrim Sorokin’s statement “An egalitarian society with real equality of men is only a myth that has never been realised in the history of mankind” is given and you are asked to justify or qualify this statement. A close look at this statement reveals that Sorokin is implying social stratification is a universal phenomenon. You should use all your knowledge in the concept and process of stratification to justify what Sorokin is implying here. Another example is the 2022 question “What is meant by Health? Is the burden of life style diseases on the rise? Justify your answer with suitable examples”.
- In addition, “SOME RARELY USED WORDS LIKE EXEMPLIFY”. To exemplify anything implies to provide a model instance of something belonging to a specific category.
- “COMPARE AND CONTRAST” is very self-explanatory. For example, the 2018 question “Compare and contrast the economic typology of tribes given by different anthropologists”.
THE THIRD STEP IS TO QUICKLY DECIDE UPON A STRUCTURE AND MAIN POINTS. THIS EXERCISE CAN TAKE ANYWHERE FROM HALF A MINUTE TO ONE MINUTE… USE ROUGH SPACE IF ESSENTIAL.
As a result, you are better able to anticipate how much time you will need to devote to answering the question.
You will gain higher marks based on how effectively, how organised, and how clearly the answer is communicated; therefore, you will need to plan your answer in such a way that it is structured in a way that is understandable.
For instance, if you are investigating the benefits and drawbacks of a certain topic, you should look to group all of the advantages together in one place and then group all of the disadvantages together after that. Creating a quick plan will help you put this together without wasting time while you are writing your answer, so you should do that now.
This is not a rule, but when you plan an answer, you need to make sure that you have at least 5 to 6 major points or key words for your short answer, and at least 10-12 for longer answers.
WRITE YOUR INTRODUCTION – however, THIS STEP IS NOT REQUIRED FOR SHORT ANSWERS DUE TO THE FACT THAT THERE IS A WORD LIMIT; YOU SHOULD GET RIGHT TO THE POINT.
In this introduction area, you will first provide a brief overview of the primary theme or topic, like a definition for example, and then you will need to outline the aspects of the issue that you are going to cover in the following sections or the main body of the answer.
Illustrate or draw a chart, steps in a flow chart, timelines, tables, etc. that might help you organise your main content and clarify it at first glance. It is ESPECIALLY HELPFUL TO MAKE A FLOW CHART IF THE QUESTION SAYS TO ILLUSTRATE WITH AN EXAMPLE, TO ELUCIDATE, TO CRITICALLY COMMENT, OR asks ABOUT THE TYPES OR CLASSIFICATION OF A PARTICULAR PHENOMENON. For example, when asked about the many forms of descent rules or marriage rules, it is helpful to draw a CHART.
If it is a compare and contrast type question, make a table, if clear distinctions can be made while doing so. It is not advisable to take this route if there are not discreet points of differences. You would rather explain them in sentences.
The next step is to WRITE YOUR MAIN CONTENT while also keeping track of the time.
- Be sure to cover as many angles as you can, like for example, the social, political, and economic aspects, and include a variety of examples to back up your claims, wherever possible and necessary.
- Never write an answer assuming the examiner knows everything. It is the student who is getting tested.
- Do not speculate or make up information. Be as specific and accurate as you can be with the information that you provide. Have concrete real examples and real facts, be careful around percentages and years.
- Keep in mind that your work, as well as the evidence that supports it, will most likely be checked. Because of this, you should not use sources that cannot be checked or claim that something was stated when it wasn’t actually.
- Avoid factual errors at all costs… when you are not sure, don’t mention it.
- Remember, it is alright to be vaguely correct than being precisely wrong.
While writing your main content, YOU WILL NEED TO REMEMBER TO GIVE EXAMPLES or cite Case Studies IN YOUR MAIN CONTENT WHEREVER IT IS RELEVANT and is possible.
The next step is to WRITE EITHER A CONCLUSION STATEMENT OR A SUMMARY.
The answer’s conclusion ought to be rationally deduced from both the introduction and the main body of the response. However, it is not necessary in short notes as there is a word limit. Do not artificially or deliberately conclude as a habit… do it only when it is relevant and required.
If you have time, it is best to quickly skim through your answer to check it and make sure there are no obvious flaws or grammatical or spelling mistakes. Make sure that the answer you provided is what was asked in the question.
WHILE YOU CHECK, UNDERLINE ANY KEY WORDS YOU FIND. This allows the examiner to process your response in a more organised fashion, and it also allows you to proceed with confidence to the next question, knowing that you have given this one your absolute best.
PRACTICE ANSWER-WRITING OFTEN.
Writing activates a network of cells known as the Reticular Activating System (RAS), which is located at the base of the brain. This part functions as a filter for everything that your brain needs to process, giving more importance to the things that you are actively focusing on at the moment. And the important thing you are doing is writing with your physical hands; the act of writing brings this to the forefront and focuses your brain on understanding what you are doing.
In addition, researchers have discovered that writing requires the use of one’s hand to make letters (and connect those letters), which more actively engages one’s brain in the process. On the other hand, typing simply entails picking letters by pressing keys that look very similar to one another.
Lastly, keep in mind that your examination is a WRITTEN examination, not a typed one. Practice writing by yourself in order to improve your writing speed, legibility and understanding the effort that goes into it, both physically and cognitively.
One last point, practice answer writing with an open book to start with and compile all the points you think are relevant to the question from all the sources you are referring to and present them in the form of an answer. While doing this, you are referring to more information than what you need to ultimately present as an answer and this helps you in multiple ways – looking at the concept more elaborately and comprehensively, thereby improving your conceptual understanding, and it also helps you develop the discretion that you require to calibrate your content based on the question asked, which is either a short note for 10 marks or a longer answer, which could be a 15 or a 20 marker.
Wish you all the very best and success in your endeavours.
Leave a Reply