How to do an extended response exam

University of Queensland
© History Skills

In an extended response question, you will be given a topic or a question and be given specific instructions on how to respond.


Knowing what the question is asking for, and knowing how to structure your response, is crucial to obtaining the best results.


Understand the question

Read the question carefully to find the key word or phrase in regard to what you need to do.


The most common key words and phrases are listed below with a brief explanation of what you need to do:

Key Word or Phrase Explanation
Account for Give reasons why
Analyse Examine to explain meaning, relationships, similarities or differences
Argue Give reasons for or against
Assess Determine the value or significance
Causes What things led to or caused the historical event?
Change What was different as a result of this event or person?
Compare Examine and note similarities
Consequence What happened as a result of the historical event or person
Consider Judge and come to an opinion
Continuity What continued unchanged, or stayed the same?
Contrast Emphasise the differences
Discuss Examine by argument, considering for and against
Explain Offer reasons for
How Explain the process, steps or key events
Motive The reasons people provided for their actions
Significance Why is it important?
To what extent Quantify the importance (to a great extent? to a limited extent?)
Why Explain the motives, reasons or causes

Extended Response Structure

Your Extended Response paragraph should follow the same paragraph structure as an analytical essay body paragraph. Parts of a good body paragraph:


1. Topic sentence: The very first sentence that clearly states what you are going to be arguing in the paragraph.


2. Explanation sentence: provides a detailed explanation of what your topic sentence means, or the main points that your sources will focus on. This usually means provided details about a historical person, location or event.


3. Evidence from your sources: Incorporate a number of good pieces (usually 3-4) of evidence from sources that prove your point for this paragraph. A typical evidence sentence has the following structure:


[Source name] says that [direct/indirect quote] which shows that [explanation] (in-text reference).


For example:

Smith says that "Romans were cruel soldiers", which shows that Roman legionaries had a reputation for excessive violence (1977, 186).


As you incorporate your quotes, ensure you provide analysis and evaluation of your sources. For examples for how to do this, proceed to this section of the History Skills website. 


4. Clincher: Make a clear statement about how all the evidence you provided helps prove what you had stated in your Topic Sentence. 

Example Extended Response

Example Extended Response Question:

How did the differences in Caesar’s and Pompey’s attitudes towards their defeated enemies effect how the Roman people reacted to the two leaders?


Example Extended Response Answer:

The difference between Caesar’s clemency and Pompey’s harsh punishments polarised the Roman populace, causing them to love one but hate the other. On one hand, Caesar spared the lives of the defeated Pompeian soldiers who had fought against him. His clemency was promoted throughout Italy, which increased popular opinion in Caesar’s favour. Caesar himself was reported have said to Cicero, a close political ally, that such a strategy was intended to “willingly win the support of all and gain a permanent victory…grow[ing] strong through pity and generosity” (Cicero, Atticus, VII.11). It must be noted that Cicero demonstrated a favourable opinion towards the future dictator at that point in time, so the senator may have produced this notion on behalf of Caesar. However, the indication is that the stratagem worked and Caesar gained substantial popularity in Italy as a result. In contrast to Caesar’s generosity, Pompey and the optimates were reputedly very harsh towards their enemies. They had announced that those who remained in Rome were to be regarded as enemies (Kamm, 2006, 106). This is confirmed by Goldsworthy, when he notes that after the victory at Dyrrachium, Pompey’s commanders were allowed to mock and execute imprisoned troops in front of Caesar’s army (2006, 421). The news of both Caesar’s and Pompey’s differing attitudes towards defeated enemies had a powerful effect on the Romans. The sharp contrast between the two policies of the two civil war generals impressed the Italians in Caesar’s favour and, as a result, Pompey lost most of his popular support on the peninsula.