Asking Excellent QuestionsSuccess on the GMAT depends on many skills, and one skill that can help a student make enormous progress is the skill of asking excellent questions. In order to discuss this skill, first let’s look at a relatively straightforward practice problem.

If \(x^2 + 8 = 17\) and \(x^2 - 2x - 15 = 0\), then \(3x + 23 =\)

(A) 14

(B) 26

(C) 28

(D) 32

(E) 38

I will show a full solution at the bottom of this article. Right now, let’s just suppose that you got this question wrong and wanted to ask about it. The correct answer is the lowest of the five answer choices, so for example, if you went for the trap answer of 32, you fell right into one of the mistakes that the question was specifically designed to elicit. Questions writers regular incorporate trap answers like big butterfly nets, and simply let hordes of test-takers run into them. The more you, as a student, can recognize these traps, the more you can set yourself apart from the mass of ordinary test takers. I will discuss this more in the solutions below.

Asking poor questionsSuppose you did this questions, got it wrong, and didn’t have access to an immediate explanation for the question. Suppose you wanted to get an explanation from an expert, either on a blog or on a forum such as GMAT Club. How would you ask your question?

Here’s what many people might say:

1)

I don’t understand. Please help.

2)

I don’t get this.

3)

Please explain.

I see questions of this ilk often. These are abysmally poor questions. If I were to assign a grade to such a question, I would give an F. Asking a questions of this sort does not indicate any willingness, on the part of the student, to engage the material and put significant energy into the process of coming to deeper understand.

Notice, that questions like this require almost no effort to write. One could write one of these questions and post it in under 15 seconds. Right there, that’s an indication that it’s not necessarily going to help you. You are not going learn the most and make the most progress unless you put a significant amount of effort into your own cause.

Another problem with these question is: think about it from the perspective of the expert who gets such a question. I certainly understand how to solve this problem myself, but if student tells me simply “I don’t understand. Please help,” then I don’t know where that student is stuck. Does that student not know how to

factor quadratics at all? Did the student fall for the trap answer of

(D)? Did the student make a simple arithmetic mistake? Does the student not understand algebra in the least? Given that meager question, I have absolutely no idea what would best help the student.

The presumption of such a question is that the teacher, not the student is responsible for the process of education. This is incorrect. Education is not something a teacher or test prep company does to you. Education is not a spectator sport. Education is primarily something you do to yourself, by yourself, for yourself, and teachers or test prep companies simply provide the support and resources to enable you to educate yourself.

For the rest of the discussion of how to ask truly excellent questions, see:

http://magoosh.com/gmat/2014/asking-exc ... questions/Mike

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Mike McGarry

Magoosh Test PrepEducation is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. — William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)