How Do You Do Well Your College Class? Good Question

“Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.” 
― Samuel JohnsonThe Rambler

What questions do you have? When you start a new class do you start out with questions or do you show up expecting to have your knowledge increased like a water being poured into an empty glass? Most of us have problems formulating questions. It is not a skill that we have been taught nor is it one that is prized by the traditional school system.

Answers, Questions and Traditional School: The Bad News

If you’ve been in most any American school for the last hundred years or so, you know that school loves questions and answers. They are all over our standardized state tests and they cover the multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, matching, T or F parade we have seen over and over. But who is asking the questions and who is expected to come up with the correct answers?

Teachers ask questions and students are supposed to come up with answers, right? So your job as a student has been to collect answers, hopefully mostly correct ones, to earn passing scores on a test over subjects which might interest you (or not), by a person who might know you and your interests (but probably not). So most of us have not learned how to ask questions, only produce answers. Mistakes and experimentation lead to a lot of incorrect (but sometimes really interesting and life-changing) answers. Schools and teachers mostly find that an inefficient and cumbersome way to proceed. 

Your Brain and My Brain: The Good News 

If you have spent time around any 3 year-old, you know that they have questions about everything. The thing is that you used to be that 3 year-old. Your brain started out in a position to ask questions about things that don’t make sense to you. You probably drove your parents crazy for a while asking why, who, where and how. But you learned. The more you were able to explore areas of your interest, the more you probably learned about that thing. You also were able to connect your new information to the stuff you already knew. There are all kinds of reasons for that (which you can research if you are interested) but that isn’t the main point. The main point is: your brain already comes into the world able to learn and ironically, the education system may be the main reason you don’t use questions the way you should.

Questions and College Classes:

The fact is that a main way to express interest in something or someone is to ask questions.  Don’t believe me? Think about a young couple as they are getting to know one another. They ask a lot of questions about all kinds of things, partially because they don’t know, but mostly because it gives them time to be in the presence of the one they care about.  How do you know when it’s over between the two? Do they talk, ask questions and show interest in the other person. 

So when you are attending your classes, your college classes that YOU signed up for, nobody held a gun to your head, and you show up the first day and all the days after with no curiosity and no questions, it’s over. See, if you are doing the readings or projects or labs, it’s expected that you will have questions. Just like the idea student in high school was the one who came with all the homework done and a pile of correct answers, you need to be the ideal college student who comes to class with the homework done and a pile of interesting questions.  That is not for the professor’s benefit that you ask questions, it’s for you. That is how you will get the most out of your classes and it will save you from the boredom many of your classmates will experience, because they don’t know this secret.

How Should You Start? Good Question

So, have a list of questions everyday when you attend your classes. Write them into your notes before class begins. See how many of the questions your professor answers during the lecture/presentation/lab. If you still have questions by the end of class, make sure you ask. Here is a list of general questions you can ask from the first day:

 

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