Lesson 16: Ask Questions
I’ll start this lesson with a bold claim:
The more questions you ask, the more likely you are to become a Laureate.
Suppose two students are equally strong academically. They both study hard and typically obtain similar grades in class. Suppose that one of them asks a lot of questions, whereas the other barely ask any. Everything else remaining the same, who has better chances of becoming a Laureate? Of course, it’s the one asking questions because he/she is learning new things and clearing his/her doubts.
As the great Greek philosopher, Socrates once said:
The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.
When you assume that you know nothing, your mind will always be open to receiving new information. So, you will always want to ask questions to seek additional knowledge.
Here are the reasons why asking questions increase your chances of becoming a Laureate:
You are unlikely to understand every topic in every subject the first time a teacher explains it to you. You are going to have doubts or misunderstandings about things. Imagine you’ve understood a topic wrong and it comes up in the exam. What will happen? You’ll screw it all up! Kiss goodbye to your dream of becoming a Laureate! Therefore, you should ask questions to help you clear those doubts well before the exam. Ideally, you should clear them as soon as they occur. Doubts are like the drops of water that come on a car’s windshield on a rainy day. They cloud your vision, so you need to get rid of them as quickly as possible if you want to see clearly.
In class, it is probable that you don’t understand everything that the teacher is trying to explain. Our brains tend to shift in and out of focus while we are in the classroom. So, there may be gaps in your understanding. Asking questions can reveal those gaps, allowing your teacher to fill them, as required. Filling in those gaps will help you gain those extra marks in the exam. Those extra marks are what differentiate Laureates from the rest!
During your studies, you will be bombarded with new information every day, and you are expected to remember them all. Indeed, you better remember them all if you want to obtain full marks in all your subjects. If you forget a topic and it comes up in the exam, you are toast! Research shows that you are more likely to remember information when you ask a question about it. Why? Because you’ve personally made an extra effort when asking that question. Your brain will want a “return” on that effort “invested”. Being able to hold on to the information received as a result of asking that question is the “return” your brain is looking for.
During class, how often do you find yourself bored, lacking focus, or sleepy? This happened to me many times. What if I tell you there is a straightforward thing you can do to snap out of it and regain your concentration? Well, you’ve guessed it! Ask a question to your teacher! When you do this, your mind changes from “passive” mode to “active” mode because you are actively engaging yourself with the teacher and classroom. This will help you regain your focus, enabling you to follow the remainder of the class more efficiently, and absorb more information from the teacher. Active discussion facilitates learning!
It’s essential to build great relationships with your teachers. Once you’ve built a solid rapport with your teachers, they’ll start acting as mentors to you, offering you a wealth of further advice, tips, and wisdom! Laureates know that such student-teacher relationships are priceless! One of the best ways to start building a good relationship with your teacher is by asking relevant questions that add value to the class. Most good teachers absolutely love it when their students ask questions because this shows that they are engaged with the learning and want to reinforce their knowledge. This will show that you are a keen student, thus giving the teacher some of the job satisfaction they so deserve!
Typically, there are many links between the topics that form a subject. For example, in Mathematics, questions from many different topics (e.g. Differentiation, Integration, Coordinate Geometry or Rate of Change) can involve some Trigonometry. To be able to answer exam questions efficiently, you must understand how those topics are related to each other. At first, it is usually hard to grasp these, so, as far as possible, you should ask your teachers how the various topics are connected. This will help you gain a more throughout understanding of the whole syllabus.
Some students dread asking questions for a variety of reasons. However, the more questions you ask, the more confident you’ll become. Soon, you’ll no longer be scared of asking them, hence unlocking the door to potentially limitless learning! Moreover, articulating your questions (hopefully clearly) to your teachers will improve your speaking and listening skills. These will be very useful when you go out in the world of work, or when journalists interview you on results day, just after you’ve been proclaimed Laureate!
Asking questions helps to improve your critical thinking skills by asking for another person’s point of view on a subject. This might be a teacher, a friend, or anybody else. This will help you develop the skill of seeing things from different perspectives. Now, is this a useful skill? Of course, it is! For instance, General Paper essays are mostly argumentative, so, this is an immediate example where you can demonstrate your superior critical thinking skills to gain higher marks!
You are unlikely to be the only one in the classroom with a question. When you ask a question, other students might follow-up on that and ask related questions of their own. This will reinforce your learning, and will definitely help you in the long run!
I hope you are now convinced of the massive benefits that come with asking questions. However,
If you don’t ask, you won’t get any of those benefits!
Unfortunately, many students are afraid of asking questions. They are scared of looking stupid in front of the teacher and class. However, let me tell you this:
There is no such thing as a dumb question. There’s only the stupidity of NOT asking the question.
Nonetheless, if you are still finding it hard to ask questions, the following tips should help:
Don’t worry about what the others will think of you if you ask the question. Often, that dreadful feeling of being “judged” by your peers is only in your head! Spoiler alert: Most of the time, they are secretly admiring you for having the guts of asking that question. And more often than not, they are quietly thanking you because they had the same issue but did not dare to ask!
If it helps, try practising asking questions in front of a mirror or friends. This might give you some practice on how to plan and articulate your questions appropriately. This will help you feel more confident when asking questions in class.
Consider the potential consequence of not asking a question. Consider what would happen if that topic came up in the exam and you don’t know what to do about it. Does your fear of being “judged” for a so-called “stupid” question outweigh your desire of becoming a Laureate? I sincerely hope not!
Make sure you’ve made at least some effort to understand what the teacher is saying before asking the question. In class, this simply means paying attention to what the teacher is saying. Then, just before asking your question, give the teacher a quick summary of the bits you’ve understood. This will help you ask a more specific question and receive a more accurate answer from the teacher.
Keep your questions focused, i.e., ask only one thing at a time. Once the teacher has answered, you may follow up with the additional related questions that you wanted to ask, one at a time. This will help you better articulate your thoughts, hence making you more confident to ask the questions.
Hopefully, you are now no longer scared of asking questions. Indeed, as Ruby Dee said
The greatest gift is not being afraid to question.
Now, I’ll teach you a simple trick to fully unlock the power of asking questions. Here it is:
Keep a WRITTEN record of ALL questions you’ve asked and ALL answers you’ve received.
Here’s a step-by-step approach on how to implement it:
Always have a notebook ready wherever you are. This can be a small physical notebook or a notebook app on your phone, or both. Let’s call this the “Pre-processing” notebook.
Still Step 0:
Have a dedicated “Questions” notebook for each subject. It does not absolutely need to be a notebook. As long as it’s written down in an organised manner, it’s okay. So, if you are doing five subjects, you should have six notebooks – one “Pre-processing” notebook and five “Questions” notebooks.
You think of a question,
You ask a question,
Your friends ask a question relevant to you, or
You receive an answer to a question,
quickly jot it down in the “Pre-processing” notebook. It does not have to be super-neat. Just write something that will remind you of the question (and the answer if you received one).
Whenever you get the time during the day, write down the question and the corresponding answer neatly in the relevant “Questions” notebook. Try to be as specific and detailed as possible. Add additional comments, if you want too.
That’s it, really! It’s a very simple, yet effective technique to ensure that you gain maximum benefits out of asking questions.
Imagine doing this every day during the two years leading to your HSC exams! You will have documented all the doubts and misunderstandings, and all the gaps in understanding you’ve ever had during those two years! Assuming you go through the five “Questions” notebooks before the exams, you will ensure that none of your doubts or weaknesses brings you down in the exam! Now, that’s something that will genuinely help you gain full marks in all your subjects!
Therefore, the Key Takeaway from this lesson is: