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Command verbs used in the Associate and Fellowship exams

Command verbs are the words in your exam questions that tell you what the examiner wants you to do

Exam questions should test a range of knowledge and skills. They should test and reward critical appreciation and the ability to apply what has been learnt rather than the reproduction of memorised facts

As they progress through the IFoA exams candidates are usually required to demonstrate higher level cognitive and intellectual skills, i.e. it is not enough for students to demonstrate that they can remember facts and figures; they need to show they are able to interpret the meaning of data and evaluate their significance. When writing examination questions it can be extremely helpful to consider the level of cognition that is to be tested to help to select the most appropriate verb to be used in the exam question.

To assist you in designing exam questions the IFoA introduced a set of command verbs for the different levels of cognition. These are also provided to students for guidance in preparation for sitting the exam. Note that this list is for the standard written exam questions and does not cover direct questioning words for multiple choice questions (e.g. What, Why, Who etc.) or specific verbs.


Command Verb Definition
Define Give the exact meaning of.
Describe Express, fully and clearly, the details/facts of. 
(e.g. “Describe the benefits payable under a term assurance policy”.)
Draw Produce a representation of…a diagram, graph, chart etc. 
(e.g. “Draw a diagram to illustrate the profit-maximising price”.)
Label Attach a name to unidentified terms …on a graph, chart, diagram, table
(e.g. “Label the axes”.)
List Make a list of. 
(e.g. “List the Technical Actuarial Standards issued by the Financial Reporting Council”.)
State Express the details/facts of…. without elaboration. 
(e.g. “State the principles of investment”.)
Write Down Provide exactly what has been asked for, without explanation or elaboration.


Command Verb Definition
Calculate Break down into component parts.
Carry out Perform / do the specific test or task.
Construct Produce what has been asked for, with appropriate structure. 
(e.g. “Construct a table showing…”.)
Demonstrate Prove with certainty or exhibit by practical means.
Derive Develop a result from first principles (or from the given starting point),
Describe Express, fully and clearly, the details/facts of. 
(e.g. “Describe the risks arising” under a specific given scenario.)
Determine Find the solution by argument or calculation, making clear your reasoning. 
(e.g. “Determine the type of event that has occurred, based on the data provided”.)
Draw Produce a representation of…a diagram, graph, chart etc. 
(e.g. “Draw a scatterplot”.)
Explain Make clear the meaning or purpose or details of, or the justification for.
Express Write down the result in the specified terms.
Fit Define the relationship between observed and expected values of a distribution or model.
(e.g. “Fit a generalised linear model to the data.”)
Give Write down what has been asked for, without elaboration. 
(e.g. “Give an example of…”.)
Label Attach a name to unidentified terms …on a graph, chart, diagram, table. 
(e.g. “Label the curves which correspond to each of the given scenarios”.)
List Make a list of. 
(e.g. “List the assumptions/rating factors that would be required to price this product”.)
Outline Describe briefly without elaboration or explanation.
Perform Undertake the specified test.
Plot Illustrate the given information or data using a chart or graph. 
(Note: “Plot” implies that more accuracy is required than “Sketch”.)
Prepare Make or get ready for use. 
(Note: “Prepare a Report” is restricted to CA2 and CA3.)
Prove Demonstrate the truth of what is indicated, through mathematical argument.
Show Demonstrate the given result to be correct.
Simplify Give an equivalent, but simpler, version of a mathematical expression.
Sketch Produce a rough graph, chart or diagram of.
Solve Find a mathematical answer to.
State Express the details/facts of…. without elaboration. 
(e.g. “State whether the investor should take a long or short position on the option in this situation”.)
Test Check or examine something. 
(e.g. “Test the hypothesis that…”)
Verify Demonstrate to be true.

Higher Order Skills

Command Verb Definition
Analyse Break down into component parts.
Assess Judge the effectiveness, implications, relevance, importance, suitability and/or value of.
Comment on Give brief conclusions on.
Compare Highlight the similarities and differences between.
Contrast Highlight the differences between.
Determine Find the solution by argument or calculation, making clear your reasoning. 
(e.g. “Determine the most appropriate course of action for the company, within the given constraints”.)
Discuss Write about in some detail, taking into account different issues or points of view.
Estimate Calculate a result, using judgement to decide on suitable assumptions and/or approximations.
(Used when the result is not definitive.  Assumptions made should be expressed clearly and intermediate workings should be shown.)
Evaluate Judge the suitability of something for a given purpose.
Identify Select after consideration of the possible options or alternatives.
Justify Provide reasons to support.
Propose Select and then communicate a solution, action or range of possible solutions/actions. 
(Justification is not expected unless explicitly asked for, e.g. “with reasons”.)
Recommend Select and then communicate a preferred solution or course of action.
(Justification is not expected unless explicitly asked for, e.g. “with reasons”.)
Set out Write down in a structured way.
Suggest Communicate a range of solutions, actions or reasons without justification. 
(This is normally used in a situation where there is insufficient information provided to form a definitive recommendation or proposal,
e.g. “Suggest possible reasons” or “Suggest possible actions”.) 

Guidance Notes on the Use of Command Verbs

  1. The given categorisation of the command verb indicates whether the question should in the first instance be allocated as Knowledge, Application, Higher Order Skills in the exam plan.
  2. If a question crosses more than one of the K/A/H skill levels, then wherever possible it should be broken down into separate parts so that each part can be allocated to one category only.
  3. However, if this is not feasible then questions can have partial marks allocated to lower categories, i.e. a Higher Order Skill question can have some of its marks allocated to Allocation and/or Knowledge categories where relevant, and an Application question may have some of its marks allocated to Knowledge where relevant.  [This reflects the higher categories requiring skills which build up from lower level skills.]
  4. The rule about only having one command verb per question remains unchanged. 
  5. Use of the present participle as an extension of the question is permitted where these parts cannot readily be separated (e.g. “… stating any assumptions”, “… showing your workings”).  However, if they could be separated (e.g. “… commenting on your answer”) then they should be (i.e. “Comment on your answer” as a separate part).
  6. If a question is written for which an appropriate verb does not appear on this list (in the view of the Examiners and Education Actuary) then this should be fed back into the process with a view to adding this verb to the agreed list for the next session.

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