Could You Repeat the Question Please?

It seems that even the most carefully written question will be misunderstood by a few students. The author of the question usually has a particular result in mind and composes the question in this frame of reference. Students approach the same question from any number of different frames of reference. I imagine some approaches are far beyond anything the question’s author could have conceived of. It occurs to me that there is a continuum of clarity for questions. Certainly some questions are more clear and concise than others. There is also the attentiveness of the question answerer to consider. Some misunderstandings are caused by less-than careful reading of the question by the student. Some times the students read attentively but do not take into account the context of the question. A clear question read attentively has a good chance of being answered correctly (quadrant I). An unclear question with an inattentive reading is destined for disaster (quadrant IV). Quadrants II and III are problematic. Prelab and lab report questions should be clarified as much as possible. Another way to mitigate misunderstandings is to repeat the same question types from assignment to assignment. That way, students can get feedback from corrected assignments to help them to understand the instructor expectations next time they encounter a similar question.

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