The art of questioning

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 June, 2009, 12:00am

If the word school makes your eyelids droop, perhaps you haven't learned the art of questioning yet.

As Hong Kong classrooms change to more analytical, self-study methods, developing a natural curiosity will not only help you as a person, it will also help your grades.

'Questioning makes you a more responsible learner,' said Wong Ping-loong, the head of philosophy at South Island School. 'If questions are driving your study, you are taking a personal interest and responsibility in your learning rather than relying on your teacher to tell you everything.'

But for those of us who were taught to learn things by memory only, questioning does not come easily.

Besides asking who, what, where, when and why?, questions usually fall under three categories: 1. Factual
These are questions with only one correct answer. Sometimes the answers are easy to find - for instance, 'Who is Hong Kong's chief executive?' but sometimes they are still being explored - for instance, 'Do UFOs exist?'

2. Interpretive
Interpretive questions are also fact-based questions, but with more than one possible answer. And they require more evidence to support them. For example, 'What is Kelly Clarkson singing about in her new song Circus?'

3. Evaluative
Evaluative questions ask for an opinion. You can draw out a more interesting response by adding 'why?'. For instance, 'Who is your favourite author, and why?'. You can apply the Socratic method. Named after Socrates (see sidebar), this method uses a sequence of questioning that starts with broad questions, and clarifies the responses by asking more and more questions. This method can open your mind to exciting new answers. Take a popular topic, love. What is love? Who loves? Is it only between two people? Can you love your pet? When taking the Socratic approach, a broad topic such as love can quickly generate smaller questions that clarify the original topic.