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?
- 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?