The tyranny of command verbs

Clio et cetera

I have written before about why I find generic taxonomies of verbs so depressing. Not only are words such as ‘analyse’ or ‘describe’ vague, but they are also redundant in the context of subject disciplines, each of which provides its own forms of description, analysis, and so on. Yet these so-called ‘command verbs’ remain the driving force at GCSE and, to a considerable extent, at A-Level. Exam boards specify what command verbs they are going to include, and then set out in the mark scheme what a response to that particular command verb looks like. This is perhaps the most important reason teachers spend so long drilling children on the ‘correct’ (i.e. exam-board-mandated) response to a particular command verb.

This all helps to make marking more reliable (not that this is what you would think given number of complaints about marker reliability). It also makes teachers and pupils feel…

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