How to Answer Compare and Contrast Questions

How are they alike and yet different?

Students are often asked to write exams where they have to compare and contrast time frames, writing styles, technological advancements and myriad other things. This article is designed to help write the best answer possible.

Decide whether you are being asked to compare, to contrast, or both. If you are comparing, cite similarities. If you are contrasting, cite differences.

Get organized. Make a chart or construct a Venn diagram.

Give concrete examples from the items you are comparing or contrasting. Don't just offer a summary.

Use either a whole to whole approach or a point to point approach. Depending on what you are comparing or contrasting, after you've made your chart or Venn diagram decide which approach will fully answer the question.

Make sure to use terminology that clearly states the similarity or exactness when comparing. As an undergraduate student, I once stated that Greek Mythology was "like" a religion to the Greek people of the time. The instructor took off points because she said Greek Mythology "was" their religion. Be careful of your wording.

Show the differences when you need to contrast. Indicate exactly how the items are unalike or in opposition to each other. Do not get these mixed up with your comparisons.

  • Be sure to be specific in your answers. Watch out for words added to the instructions of compare and contrast. Some exam have additional phrases such as "and give the significance of" in the test instructions. That can change the entire answer. If you have to compare and give the significance of literary terms, time periods, social problems or any other comparative terms be sure to answer both parts of the question.
  • Know basic definitions. Use the terms being explained in your answer but be sure to be exact in your response.

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