I prepare lots of assessments for my students. As much as possible, I write instructions instead of questions.

Instead of …

  1. What are the roots of equation 1?
  2. How are the roots of the equation related to the graph?

I write …

  1. Find the roots of equation 1.
  2. Explain how the roots of the equation relate to its graph.

Typically (as above) emphasising the action very (command word) in bold. A test, or any assessment, consists of a series of these ‘instructions’, sometimes with sub-parts.


How should I refer to these … “questions”?

I see many books and tests from others simply keep referring to them as “questions”. On the front cover of assessments, I always have a short list of generic instructions related to the assessment. Like when and how to submit work. Investigations in our textbooks often refer to “Step 1” etc. But individual “questions” on a test are not ‘steps’, because they are not sequentially linked.

It doesn’t make sense to say:

• Answer the questions on this test paper in the spaces provided.

And …

• Respond to the instructions on this test paper in the spaces provided.

just sounds horrible.

I’m stuck.

  • 3
    [CED] includes the sense: << question (A2) [count noun] in an exam, a problem that tests a person's knowledge or ability: Answer/Do as many questions as you can. >> So your title is accurate if confusing; your examples are questions (CED A2) but not questions (M-W 1a). The old conflicting polysemes problem. // In your setting, 'question' defaults to the more specialised sense. Apr 10, 2018 at 9:36
  • Question is fine, albeit not literally true. You could say "Respond the the following in the space provided".
    – jimm101
    Apr 10, 2018 at 14:47
  • Accepting this as the answer, as reposted by @Shoe Apr 10, 2018 at 14:52
  • 1
    The comment by Ashworth below the answer by Venti cannot be emphasized strongly enough! Don't use terminology that could confuse your students. Using "instructions" in lieu of "questions" will confuse your students.
    – ab2
    Apr 10, 2018 at 18:11
  • 1
    @ab2. I agree. It's particularly important to use the same command words in internal assessments as will be used in equivalent questions in the public examinations.
    – Shoe
    Apr 10, 2018 at 18:40

3 Answers 3


@EdwinAshworth is right. You can refer to tasks which are introduced by command words as questions. For example, the instructions on the International Baccalaureate sample examination in mathematics (pdf) contain the sentence:

Answer all the questions.

And the tasks themselves mostly use command words:

  • Find the probability that a girl is taller than 170 cm.

  • Calculate the volume of the solid ABCDEFGH.

  • Write down the maximum area for triangle XYZ.

  • Using the cosine rule, express z2 in terms of x and cos Z .

  • So this is general reference. Which is why I didn't give an 'answer'. Apr 10, 2018 at 11:01
  • The Cambridge definition does indeed seem to permit that usage. Apr 10, 2018 at 14:42

If the tasks are given as instructions rather than questions, then you could simply instruct your students to solve the problems rather than answer the questions.

Or am I missing something?

Solve the problems in the space provided.

  • 1
    Changing established terminology even slightly can throw candidates unfairly, so they're fighting on two fronts. The brightest might well waste time / worry unnecessarily that there is a twist in the requirements of the question, rather than an examiner striving to improve his communication style. The candidates should be totally familiar with the metalanguage. Apr 10, 2018 at 10:59
  • Some tasks are to ‘solve’ but others are not. The actions verbs are numerous: explain, determine, analyse etc. Apr 10, 2018 at 14:40

How about "Follow the instructions below"? And then call each thing that you do not wish to call a "question" a "task".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.