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05 - Maths GCSE Exam - what do the words mean?

Question Paper Terminology


What we say…

What we mean…

Estimate the value of ..

Find an approximate answer to .. (non-cal)

Change the numbers to 'nice' numbers, then calculate. Do not work out the exact answer.  Round numbers to 1 significant figure and use these to obtain an answer.



Estimate the mean of a grouped frequency table.  Estimate an average speed.

Explain/Comment/Give a reason for your answer

Use words (or mathematical symbols) to explain an answer. Look at the number of marks so that you know how many distinct points to make. Where possible refer to the NUMERICAL answers/values.

Explain your answer. You must show your working

You will be penalised if you do not show your working.


Make shorter or easier to read. Collect terms together or cancel down a fraction.

Simplify fully

Collect terms together and factorise the answer or cancel terms.  This means that an extra numerical or algebraic step is needed.

Show that

The question gives you the answer and you must write down the steps of your working to show how that answer is obtained. Use words, numbers or algebra to show an answer.


A rigid algebraic or geometric proof is required.

Work out

Normally means a calculation is involved but it may be possible to do it mentally. Look at the number of marks for the question so that you know how many pieces of evidence to give.


Will need a calculation that requires a calculator or a formal (such as column) method.


Use a ruler or a protractor to measure a length or an angle.


Use the previous answer to proceed.

Hence, or otherwise

Use the previous answer but if you cannot see how to, you may use another method.

Describe fully


In transformations:

Reflection – mirror line

Translations – vector Left/Right and Up/Down)

Rotations – centre, angle and direction

Enlargement – scale factor and centre.


Take out the common factor or factorise into two brackets if a quadratic.

Factorise fully

This is a clue that there is more than one factorisation to be done, eg a common factor and then factorising a quadratic.

Use the graph

Do not calculate, read from the graph.  Always worth putting lines on the graph to show where the answer came from.

Give an exact value

Do NOT give decimal answers or rounded answers. Give answer as a fraction or a square root.

Give your answer in terms of π

Do NOT calculate a decimal answer leave π in your answer (eg 7π)

Give answer to a sensible degree of accuracy

Normally no more accurate than the values in the question.  If question has values to 2 s.f. then give answer to 2 s.f. or 1 s.f. Trigonometrical answers accepted to 3 s.f. as this is what is taught.

Give answer to (2 d.p.)

Read the question carefully and highlight any rounding stated in the wording (eg 2dp or 3sf). Give answer to required accuracy. You will lose marks if you do not.

Not drawn accurately

Next to a diagram to discourage measuring. The diagram is reasonably close to what it should look like, but is not drawn to scale so do NOT measure any lengths or angles.

Not to scale

Next to diagram (often circles) to discourage measuring.

Use an algebraic method

Do not use trial and improvement.  Working will be expected. Remember to try to write your = signs one under the other and to write your statements one under the other.

Do an accurate drawing

Use compasses to draw lengths, protractors to measure angles (and a sharp pencil).

Do not use trial and improvement

An algebraic method is expected. Any sign of trial and improvement will be penalised.


Multiply out brackets.

Multiply out

Multiply out brackets.

Expand and simplify

Multiply out brackets and then collect terms.

Multiply out and simplify

Multiply out brackets and then collect terms.

Give a counter-example

Give a numerical or geometrical example that disproves a statement.


Find the value(s) of (x) that makes the equation true. Remember to show each step of your reasoning, putting = signs one under the other. Look at the marks for guidance on how much evidence to give.

Make (x) the subject

Rearrange a formula. Remember to show each step of your reasoning, putting = signs one under the other. Look at the marks for guidance on how much evidence to give.

Express, in terms of

Use given information to write an expression using only the letter(s) given.

Write down

Answer is clear and does not need any working.

Use a ruler and compasses

A ruler may be needed to measure but more often than not we mean use a straight edge and compasses.  Used in constructions and loci problems.


Similar to write down but requires a little more thought.