The value words in an essay question are not there to ‘trap’ you in misunderstanding the question. They’re there to to actually make the question that little bit more contentious and skeptical so that it is actually easier for you to take a stand on it. Fact is, we often use such ‘value words’ in everyday speech, and often the significance and nuance of these words are understood somewhere in your internal sense of pragmatics and logic. Consider the following scenarios:
I. Absolute Term
Mum: Why are you two always sleeping in class?
Boy 1: That’s not true! I was paying attention during your exciting group work period last week.
Boy 2: That’s not true! The last time you caught me sleeping, I was actually just closing my eyes in silent thought.
In arguing against the absolute, think of salient instances your opponents might be thinking of as areas to address. Same for the converse stand.
Teacher: You two are spending too much time on your games!
Boy 1: No teacher! I never play games at all!
Boy 2: No teacher! I play games but only on weekends after I’ve done my work.
Questions of extents are not about existence, they are about the degree to which something exists. There’s nothing wrong with playing games, it’s only the extent that matters–whether it crosses a line where it goes beyond reasonable and ends up being detrimental.
III. Greatest Cause
Teacher: You two are the main reasons why the class is so distracted!
Boy 1: No teacher! I am a good boy.
Boy 2: No teacher! I may be quite restless but I think the hot weather is the real culprit.
‘Greatest cause’ questions call for comparisons with other factors/agents leading the the common outcome.
Teacher: Can you two really do the job?
Boy 1: Yes teacher! I’m very gifted and oh-so-talented.
Boy 2: Yes teacher! We may look playful on the outside, but we can easily channel this energy to getting things done.
Acknowledge skeptical questions and address the key areas of doubt.
V. Importance / Purpose
Teacher: You both have no place in this school!
Boy 1: But teacher, I am a good kid!
Boy 2: But teacher, I bring life to the class!
Questions of purpose and value involve the unique traits of the subject in question and the needs of the wider context the subject is supposed to exist in.