Questioning approaches: conclusion

Part of Big Questions Little Questions (BQLQ), critical thinking skills for sixth form students from the University of Oxford.


Over the course of this resource, we have looked at why we ask questions, the types of questions we can ask, and how to question our sources. You have also completed some activities to help you get started on developing your critical thinking skills.

In all honesty, these skills are quite difficult to really master: lots of full-blown academics have a hard time with different parts of critical thinking! But they are very worth developing.

In school, questions are encouraged, but it’s not really the focus of teaching and, that’s not a bad thing. Teachers have a tough time being able to cover all the curriculum in such short spaces of time! The EPQ is actually one of the few times in school where individual research is encouraged, and it is a great way to prepare for university. At university, you are often allowed to specialise in your interests and, doing your own research, forming your own judgments is the way to succeed. After all, universities are the home of research, and an undergraduate dissertation is basically a long and advanced version of a school EPQ!

Differences between asking questions at school and at university

School University
An environment for teaching and learning An environment for teaching, learning and research
National curriculum: content, duration, exams Lots of modules and choice
Teachers ask questions and set essay questions Each department in each university designs its own courses and exams
Scope for independent research in EPQ and other awards e.g. CREST award Students encouraged to discuss topics with peers and tutors
Undergraduate level: lecturers tend to set essay questions, but scope to research topics of interest e.g. dissertation

Questions set by lecturers generally very broad to allow individual specialisation and answers

Postgraduate level: research questions formed by students

With a couple of caveats, university is a place where you decided what you want to research, and how you want to do it. It is total academic freedom! However, developing critical thinking skills is so important to succeeding in your studies now, and even more so later. Even if asking questions is not the central focus of your classroom right now, that does not mean you do not have to or should not learn how to do it until you get to university: the sooner you start, the better you will become!

Outside of just applying them to your studies, these skills are really important to daily life. They can help you in solving problems, making smarter choices, and even getting a job! It is certainly difficult, but it is an important skill so keep at it!

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