Exam Preparation – How to Answer an NCEA Question

How to answer an NCEA question

What will the questions look like?

Usually the questions are one sentence with two parts, however, some questions may only have one part. The first part usually asks you to analyse how techniques or methods are used to present an aspect of the text. The second part usually asks you to give reasons as to why this aspect is effective (important, has impact or influenced you) to the text as a whole. You must treat all parts of the question equally.

Answering a question

  • Choose a questionthat suits the text and targets what you have studied.
  • Underline keywords– these words will point to the sections of your study notes you need to use in your answer. Think of other words that mean the same so you have a group of useful words to use in your answer. See the sites Understanding the question and Understanding essay topics.

Plan – brainstorm and organise evidence

Brainstorm your main ideas using the keywords from the question to get your main idea. Sum up your angle or point of view in a statement or a challenging question. Brainstorm five solid points to help expand on your main idea. Select relevant material to support each point and develop your argument.

Outline of an essay plan

  • Introduction – begin with a quotation, question, thesis statement, or opinion to sum up the question
  • Focus on 4–5 key points, supported by relevant examples and analysis
  • Develop a logical argument or explanation for each point
  • Remember to link your point/s back to real-world examples or situations
  • Conclude by reinforcing a main idea from your thesis statement


A standard paragraph will organise your thoughts and have these things:

  • S = opening statement/topic sentence– stating the main idea to be developed within the paragraph – use keyword  from the question
  • E = explanation– expanding the idea through discussion
  • X = examples, evidence and detail– quotations, examples, and details to illustrate the idea should be woven into your sentence
  • Y = your thinking link back to the question by using keywords to answer the question.

Self review – check:

  • Have I answered both parts of the question?
  • How well does my evidence support my point of view/topic?
  • Is my personal response meaningful?


Posted by Tracey Hames

Teacher of English at Mount Aspiring College, Wanaka, New Zealand.

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