How to answer Philosophy Exam Questions

The classic problem with students answering philosophy exams is that they just don’t get to the point. Many students see a single word in an exam question, and go off on one, writing everything that they know about that topic! With the A-Level and IB philosophy exams recently marked, many examiner’s reports will state that they misunderstood or misread the question. Here’s the philosophyzer’s guide to how to answer in an exam.

How to answer Philosophy exam Questions…

The Examiners language

It is important that you read the question carefully and answer what the examiner wants to know. For example, if the question says explain the design argument according to Paley, do you evaluate it? No, because the examiner has not asked you to! Do you mention Aquinas? No, because the question is about Paley. Stick to the point of the question, and do’t waffle on about things that are not relevant. This will save you time and gain you marks.

Here is some of the terminology that an examiner may use. It is important that you understand it…

Explain or illustrate – Say what a concept is and use evidence and examples.

Evaluate/Discuss – These are the essay style questions where you must give two sides of an argument.

To what extent do you agree – another way of trying to get you to look at both sides of the argument!


How many Marks is the Question Worth?

Remember to also look at how many marks each question is worth. For example, on the AQA exam paper, there are two types of question. Shorter questions or part (a) are 10 mark questions and the longer essay style (part b) are 30 mark questions.

So you need to get your timing right and spend twice as long on part b as you do on part a. As a general rule, it is around a mark per minute on an exam, so a 30 mark question should last around half an hour. It is important that you keep an eye on the clock and get your timing right.

Practice makes perfect!

The best thing to do to ensure that you are fully prepared is to download past papers and mark schemes for the exam board that you use.


4 comments on “How to answer Philosophy Exam Questions

    • Generally, the number of words is not the issue. The exam boards do not give specific guidelines on number of words.It depends on whether the material is relevant to the question or not. What is important is that you cover the material in the mark scheme. My best advice to you is to do some practice papers and ask your teacher or supervisor to mark according to the mark scheme when you get feedback. Generally in the exam against the clock, you are looking at a mark a minute, but this will depend on your exam board and syllabus. Hope that helps and good luck.

  1. Another tip I would to all you guys is that in the 30 marker, for a C grade you need to state:
    One point of view and why they say is right
    Another point of view and why they say it is right
    Your conclusion, the opinion that you give and why you agree with that argument
    For an A* grade however, do all the above, but before you give your conclusion:
    Think of some problems and explain why these problems on the other point of view.
    Also, make sure you explain the subject matter fully on the 15 marker, it will show that you have full understanding of the subject and therefore will help you gain more marks.

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