Is it, or should it? (Key terms / Command terms: Is and should)

11 08 2011

Most essay questions either want you to (1) assess the current situation or (2) provide a value judgement. Those that fall into neither of these categories might want you to consider the past, or predict a future state.

(1) Assess the current situation

These questions ask: Is it or isn’t it? Does it or doesn’t it? If I look around today’s society, what does the evidence show? Although there is no right or wrong answer, somewhat ironically, evidence form the world today will serve as the answer to the question (this becomes clear when you actually write the essay).

Sample essay questions (2010):

  • ‘The book has no place in modern society’. Discuss.
  • How effective are international efforts to ease the problem of global hunger?
  • To what extent has technology has a negative impact on the skills level of people?

(2) Make a value judgement

These questions ask: Should it be this way, or should it not? Can it, or can’t it? What is your opinion? Based on your knowledge of the world, what is your answer to the question? Unlike a question that requires you to assess the current situation, value judgement isn’t concerned with what is the state of affairs. It doesn’t care whether or not, say, Singapore has or hasn’t outlawed the death penalty, or whether it has or hasn’t decriminalised homosexual behaviour – it cares about whether it should.

For the above questions to require a value judgement, they would be worded something like this:

  • ‘The book deserves a place in modern society’. Discuss.
  • Should international efforts in easing the problem of global hunger be questioned?
Some examples of questions that require a value judgement (2010):
  • Does sport merit the vast sums of money that are spent on it?
  • How important is it for people in your society to retain a sense of tradition?



15 responses

11 08 2011
Key terms: No place « read, think, write.

[…] an assessment of the current situation* – do books have a place in modern society? In other words, this question is not about […]

25 08 2011
Key terms: Command words « read, think, write.

[…] Is it? […]

30 08 2011

Is it correct to interpret that for “can it” questions, we still have to consider the current abilities while for “should it” questions we need to weigh the risk and benefits( meeting a demand or solving a problem)

30 08 2011
Adrienne de Souza

That’s right!

Sent from my iPhone

30 08 2011

Thank you very much =)

29 10 2011


I still have some questions regarding the difference bwt questions asking “should it” and “is it”.

For example, the question mentioned in your post, “should itnl efforts in easing the problem of poverty be questioned?”
in my essay, when I am addressing the desirability of itnl efforts, can I say that they should be questioned because they are not as effective as we thought and present some facts about the failure of itnl efforts? Is the point then the same as the one we can include in an essay to answer the question “how effective are itnl efforts…”?

am I presenting my question clearly?

Thank you:)

29 10 2011
Adrienne de Souza

Hi Grace,

Your point sounds relevant to a “how effective” question. However, from the way you’ve phrased it, it doesn’t sound like it quite meets requirements for the “should” question.

The should question suggests that in the status quo (see related post:, people might not question international efforts and that people might assume that they are desirable (which, in itself, isn’t the same as “effective”). Thus, a response to the above “should” question should approach it from this angle.

7 11 2011

Hi Ms Adrienne,

I think i share the same concern as Grace. Can i check with you if it is possible for you to prepare say for a ‘assess the situation’ question and re-tweak the points you prepared to fit into a ‘moral judgement’ question that comes up during the exam. Or do you think it is wiser to approach the exam question with a fresh perspective?

I’ve tried my hand at the first approach and would like to ask you if i’ve met the requirements.

For ‘How effective are international efforts to ease the problem of global hunger?’, possible points that i can think of is that:
(a) yes effective because they have the political and financial clout to reach out to large groups of the malnourished
(b) no because their intervention comes with vested self-interest and thus they tend to impose unfair terms and conditions, compromising the solution of the problem.
(c) no because any short term improvement in the solution is cosmetic since the root cause of hunger (poverty) is rarely addressed.

Using the points (b) (c) of the first question, i’ve tried re-tweaking it to answer the modified question ‘Should international efforts in easing the problem of global hunger be questioned?’:

(1) yes it should be questioned assuming that the consensus is that the current status quo-that most international bodies recognise global hunger as a problem that warrant their intervention- needs a revamp because…

*(b)* the intentions of the international bodies are questionable and not entirely altruistic. countries that are plagued with poverty should reconsider if accepting international aid is more of a boon than a bane. likewise international bodies should reconsider if their assistance warrants such unfair terms and condition.

*(c)* Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. the international bodies have not really tackled the problem of global hunger. international governance is ineffective and the responsibility should fall on internal governments of each country instead.

I HAVE ANOTHER QUESTION! How should the word ‘questioned’ be interpreted? Does it contain the negative connotation that international efforts are questionable/unsound and should be abolished? Or is it used in a more positive context, that it should be relooked at and modified? OR is that part of what you need to state in your thesis/stand?

Also, i had some difficulty when doing the ‘should’ question.

My intention was: state WHAT should or should not be questioned and ‘recommending’ if it should be questioned what is a better alternative.

Did my intention come across? I’ve tried using the model you recommended (status quo->proposed change->key issues) but I am still worried that I’ve not understand what the crux of my essay should be, and that i’ve gone out of point.

Really sorry for the long wall of words! I appreciate your time for helping me out on this:D Thank you Ms Adrienne!

Cheers. Jace

8 11 2011
Adrienne de Souza

Hi Jace,

Your “how effective” points are fine.

I have some comments for your “should” points, and I think it’s because of how you’ve interpreted ‘questioned’. I would say that ‘questioned’ carries a negative connotation, so identifying point (b) as relevant fits in with this. I feel that point (c) addresses the more neutral ‘questioned’, and for that reason, I wouldn’t have included point (c).

So point (b) for your “should” response if fine. Point (c) could be made relevant with further tweaking – perhaps that it should be questioned because it almost seems as though aid is given simply for the sake of giving it, as it rarely addresses the root cause of the problem. So we can question the intention / whether it is genuine.

I’m afraid I didn’t see your intention when I read it. The crux is on the motives / intentions behind aid, and whether they are genuine or not.

26 12 2011

Does questions such as: “Consider the value of animation”

be analysed the same way as “is it” questions?

16 01 2012

Does questions such as: “Consider the value of animation”

be analysed the same way as “is it” questions?

16 01 2012
Adrienne de Souza

It’s an assessment of the state of/nature of animation, rather than a value judgement, so yes.

Sent from my iPhone

16 03 2012

“The individual is helpless in combating environmental problems.’ What is your view?

Can i argue along the line of an individual being helpful because he/she can form groups and therefore becomes effective in combating environmental problems?

17 03 2012
Adrienne de Souza

Personally, I wouldn’t advise that, unless you’re using that as an “in fact” tier (see post on “tiered rebuttals” or “rebuttal tiers”).

If you disagree with this stand, I’d advise you to argue “not helpless”, rather than “helpful”. I explained this concept in a previous post – I think the post was about the question, “technology has a negative impact on the skills level of people”. Let me know if you can’t find the post.

Sent from my iPhone

24 03 2012

I get what you mean. Thank you very much.

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