Comprehending, Responding

YOUR RESPONSE v YOUR UNDERSTANDING – what’s the difference?

Many students make the mistake of thinking these two words mean the same thing.  They don’t.

This can cause confusion for students when they are told "You didn't answer the question properly."

YOUR UNDERSTANDING means what you’ve learned about a perspective, values, social attitudes, a particular idea, a character, a group of people or what you've learned from an event in the text etc.

YOUR RESPONSE, means your feelings towards, reactions or opinions about a perspective, values, social attitudes, a particular idea, a character, groups of people or how you responded to an event in the text etc.


Let’s imagine that you read the following excerpt in an article about P-plate drivers.

“Despite great strides in reducing the road toll, new drivers continue to die at nearly twice the rate of other drivers,” said research fellow Dr John Doe, who called for more to be done to prevent these deaths.  He believes that many P-platers are still unprepared for solo driving and is appealing for the driving age to be raised to 20 years of age.

What do you UNDERSTAND from this excerpt?

The facts suggest that the death toll for young drivers is nearly double what it is for experienced drivers, so you would understand that a problem seems to exist with young, new drivers on our roads.

Now how do you RESPOND to this excerpt?   Well, that’s a whole different kettle of fish!

  • Jake, 17 - “No freakin way – that’s ridiculous.  I live on the outskirts of the city and there is no public transport out here.  How am I supposed to get to school?”
  • Leanne, 17 - “Twenty?  I am outraged. They are just picking on P-platers…again!”
  • Mr Mills, 42 – “Fantastic idea. These kids rip around town in their suped up high performance cars.  If they want to drive vehicles like that, they need more life experience.  I think raising the age is a great idea.”

Can see the difference?

RESPONSE is feelings, attitudes, reactions, opinions which come from our underlying values, attitudes and context.

UNDERSTANDING is what you learn, comprehend, appreciate or come to realise.

Here’s the difference as it can appear in an examination type question:

Discuss how generic conventions have shaped your understanding of the ideas in a text you have studied.

Discuss how generic conventions have influenced your response to the ideas in a text you have studied.


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