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The 5 best questions students should ask themselves and why

3 min read
  • Metacognition

Does asking yourself certain questions improve your performance?  Are some questions more psychologically rich than others? And if so, can they help improve key skills needed for students, such as memory, mindset and concentration?

In a fascinating study on the power and type of self-talk, participants were divided into two groups. The first asked themselves questions (“Will I do well?). The other gave declarations of success (“I will do well”). When faced with challenging anagrams, the group who had asked themselves questions answered significantly more than their self-proclaiming peers.

One possible reason why this strategy is effective is because by asking yourself questions, your brain automatically starts searching for answers, acting as a call to action. This blog considers the 5 best questions students can ask themselves: The What. Why, How, Who and Where:

What are the 5 best questions students can ask themselves and why

What do I need to do first?

This question will help develop your metacognition and get you started on the right path. Metacognition is the ability to critically analyse how you think, or in simple terms, having self-awareness and control over your thoughts. It is best described as developing appropriate and helpful thinking strategies.

This sort of thinking has been found to help students improve their learning, leading to better scores in reading comprehension and science tests. A comprehensive review on metacognition research by The Sutton Trust found it to very cost-effective and particularly helpful for disadvantaged students. Check out our suggestions for nine questions to improve metacognition.

Why is this true?

This is a great question to ask yourself to help improve memory. Psychologists refer to this technique as ‘elaborative interrogation’ and it helps improve recall by prompting people to connect the dots of their knowledge.

One study investigating this had students remember a list of sentences (i.e. ‘the hungry man got into the car’). The first group simply read the sentence. The second group were given an explanation (i.e. ‘to go to a restaurant’) and the third group were asked why might he have done this? The results? Students who were prompted to ask ‘why’ remembered 72% of the sentences when tested later, compared to only 37% in the other two groups.

Help your students optimise their memory, develop their metacognitive skills, and tackle challenges more effectively.

How can I get better?

This is the starting place to help develop a growth mindset, as it focuses on how you can improve and develop. Having a growth mindset has been associated with seeking out better feedbackcoping better with transitionsimproved self-regulationreducing stress and aggression, increasing well-being and with an increase in pro-social behaviour. Asking ‘how can I get better?’ is just one type of question that can help to do this. Read about four more Growth Mindset questions in this helpful article.

Who can I ask for help?

Using the social support from people around you helps develop resilience and is the hallmark of a mature learner. The benefits of social support include an increase in work ethic, motivation, ability to deal with stress and well-being. Where do I do my best work? Revision time can be stressful enough without the multitude of constant distractions. One of the simplest and most effective ways of improving concentration is to simply work somewhere that limits the possibility of distractions. This includes thinking about what you will need, who you work best with and what things distract you the most.

Where do I do my best work?

Revision time can be stressful enough without the multitude of constant distractions. One of the simplest and most effective ways of improving concentration is to simply work somewhere that limits the possibility of distractions. This includes thinking about what you will need, who you work best with and what things distract you the most.

Final thoughts

These five questions are psychologically rich. They force you to think about how to get the best out of yourself. If students ask themselves these What, Why, How, Who and Where questions, then they can help improve their metacognition, memory, growth mindset, social support and concentration.


About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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