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Command Words: How to deal with Explain questions

Watch this to learn how to ‘discuss’ in portfolio questions for Higher Business (and why an office on the moon might be coming your way)

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There aren’t many entrepreneurs out there who could reasonably be described as a business magnate, a tycoon or mogul. Sir Richard Branson, a dyslexic and academically weak school pupil, is one of them. There’s business success, and then there’s Branson level success which is a very exclusive club.

Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group. An organisation comprised of over 400 companies operating in various markets. With its foundations in record sales, the Virgin brand has expanded into aviation, travel and holidays, TV and internet services, banking, health and wellbeing, and most interestingly – Virgin Galactic is at the vanguard of a whole new market; pioneering the development of commercial space vehicles and space infrastructure.

Put more simply, Mr Branson is aiming to build space hotels so that you can holiday amongst the stars! A venture like this doesn’t come cheap, so how do we explain the success of this multi-billion pound business empire? The answer isn’t simple nor is it very brief. Explain is the key word here, and at Higher Business level it’s one of the most challenging Command Words you’ll encounter.

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The Virgin Group has business interests in a number of different markets. It’s a classic example of a business with a varied, or diversified, product portfolio. So let’s use this topic to navigate your way around those tricky Explain questions.

This type of question is what your teacher would call ‘higher order’, meaning it’s more difficult than others. The first key point to remember here, is that for these questions, you have to basically write two things in order to get one mark. Make an initial or opening comment and then develop this by using follow up statements like this:

this means, this shows, the impact or effect of this is…

Many Higher candidates lose marks on Explain questions for only going halfway here; they make the initial comment correctly but fail to develop it and that’s the crucial part where the mark is won.

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The 2016 and 2019 final exam papers both posed explain questions on the benefits of a varied product portfolio. The 2016 question was made more challenging as it was also linked to the case study that year. Take this statement as example:

a benefit of a varied product portfolio is that it helps spread the risk of relying on one product only

While this is entirely correct, this answer isn’t developed enough to gain the mark. It lacks that extension statement like ‘this means’.

How about:

another benefit is that brand awareness among consumers will be increased

Again, we see the same issue; this is a good point but it doesn’t go into the necessary level of development in order to win the mark.

Explain questions can be worth anything between two to five marks, and that lack of development is a common pitfall for many students. But now you know, you can take steps to avoid it!

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One thing you definitely can’t avoid however, is that you’re probably going to have to write more for these questions than any other, especially if it’s worth a big five marks.

So let’s revisit that earlier example. We can unlock the mark here by adding something like this:

this means that the business can survive if one of their products fails or a rival becomes dominant in a certain market

Now you’re demonstrating your understanding of the potential impact of that opening comment.

For the second example we can score the mark here by adding something like this:

this means that the business may increase its market share as customers become more familiar with the brand

Or you can go even further, such as:

this may also mean that it’s easier for the business to launch new products as consumers already recognize the brand name

Virgin Galactic’s planet orbiting space hotels and science labs of the future are going to need management, so do well in your exams and maybe a Business degree will get you there! I imagine having an office with a view of the Earth would be not bad at all!

Your journey to an A grade in Higher Business Management, is a bit like that voyage into space; not easy! The better equipped you are, however, to tackle the most demanding command word, the better your chances are of mission success. So good luck on your mission.

This was thinkfour, thanks for watching.