Thatís A Good Question

Not all questions are created equal. Learning how to ask good questions will improve your learning experience.

By Tim Laurent

Tim Laurent, EdD, ATC, CSCS, is the Athletic Training Program Director at Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Va.

Training & Conditioning, 11.8, November 2001,

Students perceive and learn in many different ways. Some students learn best when they read information in a book; others prefer to see information illustrated on charts and graphs. Still others need to hear a professor explain the concept in order to fully comprehend and recall the information.

Despite these differences in learning style, all students can improve how they gather information, organize sequential events, synthesize facts, and interpret results. And they can do that by asking good questions. You have probably heard that there is no such thing as a stupid question. The truth is, some questions are better than others. My goal in this article is to help you ask good questions. To do this, you need to understand the components of a good question, the importance of asking good questions, and the way to articulate a good question.

Components of a good question. Good questions provide feedback about what you know and what you need to learn. Moreover, good questions show your professor that you are integrating new information into your overall body of knowledge.

What makes a good question? A good question analyzes, compares and contrasts, interprets, and makes connections between pieces of information. When you analyze information to be asked in a question, you break down what you know into component parts. Comparing and contrasting information is the process of looking for similarities and differences. For example, both biking and running are endurance activities. Yet these activities differ in that running is weight bearing, while biking is not.

The process of interpreting a question gives meaning to the information contained in it. For example, you can conclude that biking is less stressful to joints than running because biking does not include the same level of weight bearing.

Making connections allows you to use this information in other contexts. For example, you can connect what you know about biking or running to rehabilitation planning. During the early stages of rehabilitation for patella tendonitis, patient conditioning includes riding a bike rather than running. This allows for some stress on the knee, but not so much that it causes further injury.

Why it is important to ask good questions. Three groups of people benefit from good questions: you, your classmates, and your professor. You benefit because you get clarification and become an active participant in class. Your classmates benefit because good questions stimulate their thoughts. Your professors benefit because your good question provides feedback about what you do or do not understand.

How to create a good question. The first step in creating a good question is to ask yourself what you need to learn, why the subject is important, and how you can use the information. Use the three concepts of "what," "why," and "how" to form the basis of your question. For example, let's say that your professor has just explained the mechanism of injury for spraining the medial collateral ligament (MCL). Here are potential questions, ranging from poor to better:

A poor question: "What? I don't get it." This question simply states that you do not understand the information. It gives no indication about what you need to learn.

A good question: "What did you mean when you said the MCL is injured with a valgus force?" This question is better. It lets the professor know that you may not understand the anatomy of the MCL, the definition of valgus, or how the stress of a valgus force relates to the anatomy of the MCL.

A better question: "I know what the MCL is, or at least I think I do. I understand that a valgus force occurs when your foot is abducted away from the midline of your body. But I am having trouble understanding how this mechanism causes stress on the MCL. Can you show me what you mean or give me an example?" This question is better yet, because it gives the professor insight into your level of understanding anatomy and terminology. It also indicates that you would like a demonstration.

Thoughts to action. As with any skill, the art of asking questions improves with practice. Try thinking about questions that you've asked in class and how they can be improved. Think of three good questions to ask your professor in the next class. You will find that the art of asking a better question will be valuable throughout your life.