What are Keywords & Why are they Crucial

What are Keywords & Why are they Crucial

We all hear teachers emphasise how crucial it is to identify ‘keywords’ in a question. They also tell us that responding to a question involves addressing the keywords. What you may not know is why they matter so much.

Defining keywords

Before we get into why this matters so much, let’s reflect on what keywords are:

  • Keywords are often verbs, especially ‘task verbs’ like ‘respond’, ‘discuss’ or ‘evaluate’
  • Keywords can also be adverbs such as ‘what’ and ‘how’!
  • Keywords also include thematic words in the question, also known as main ideas in a text such as ‘love’, ‘conflict’ or ‘diversity’
  • Keywords also include words that specify the format you are expected to produce: essay, research report, multimodal presentation, website.

Keywords are clues

You may think teachers just throw different words into a question for no apparent reason, but in reality, they are trying to tell you something. They are telling you HOW they want you to answer the question.

For example, in a question that asks you ‘How does the character feel after experiencing the flood?’ you would be right in annotating the words ‘how’, ‘feel’, ‘after experiencing’ and ‘flood’. A model response to this question would include explaining the characters emotions and providing evidence from the text about how the character reacted.

Seems like a hack doesn’t it? By simply answering a question using the key words, synonyms, and format can up your marks quite a bit!

A list of all HSC Keywords can be found on the NESA website, while ALARM offers helpful steps for junior and senior high school.

The art of identifying and responding to all the keywords

  1. Read the question closely and carefully
  2. Underline all the keywords so you do not forget them
  3. Avoid using a memorised response
  4. ALWAYS answer the question instead
  5. Only write information that is relevant to the question

Keywords in exams

Keywords in the exam paper provide information on:

  • which sections should be attempted
  • what manner of response you are expected to give: short answer, creative, extended response
  • how many marks each question or section of the exam is worth
  • how much time to allocate to each component

This helps students to achieve top marks because they mean that every component of the question has been answered!

Practice is the key

You can practice locating key terms and words by:

  • familiarising yourself with the available HSC past papers
  • annotating necessary terms in these questions by highlighting or underlining
  • going through the sample answers for past papers to see how other students have responded
  • rereading responses and marking the points at which the key words are explicitly addressed can be useful as well.

We hope this blog post on the importance of keywords and why they are crucial to achieving top marks has helped strengthen your understanding.

At MWNS, we always make sure to take our high school students through papers and questions to familiarise them with the types of questions they will be asked and educate them on how they should approach each question. If you are one of our students, don’t be afraid to bring in your own questions as well!

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