I’ve been there: the teacher has moved onto a topic about which you understand nothing, and you’re sitting in class waiting patiently for the next topic, which you hope you might actually understand. Students in these situations often shy away from asking questions in class because they’re afraid that they’ll interrupt the lesson for the other students. Most hide the problem and stay quiet until the next topic comes along. It’s sometimes only when the class sits a standardised test that the issue is even brought to the teacher’s attention.
Here’s some (modified) meta-data from students I’ve taught in the past year. I searched my inbox for the surname of every student I teach then counted the hundreds of questions they’ve asked me collectively since the start of the academic year. I grouped the students into quartiles and plotted the average number of questions asked in the last few months versus their current academic performance.
Results were shocking: not only did the higher-achieving students ask me more questions by email than the lower-achieving students, but the correlation was surprisingly strong (R² = 71%). This begs the question: do high achieving students get higher grades because they ask for more help? Is there a causal link between getting more help from a teacher and achieving a higher grade? Common sense suggests that there is.
What does this mean for you?
Students should ask for more academic support in order to maximise their learning. In particular:
- Always email your tutor with academic questions. Number each question for easy reference in later emails.
- Remember the 5-minute rule: ask for help from your teacher or tutor if you make zero progress on a question for more than 5 minutes.
- Ask to see your teacher or tutor if you don’t understand something. Just ask them to “explain [topic] to me because I didn’t really understand it in class”. They’ll be happy to explain it to you.
- Don’t get put off if your teacher seems too busy to help you right now. Just ask them, “do you have time tomorrow?” and schedule a more convenient time to meet.
In university, teachers don’t pay such close attention to the individual progress of each student. After Year 12, you’ll be mostly on your own. You’ll have to be proactive, take responsibility for your own learning and ask for help when you need it.
Are you a top-achieving student who learns all by themselves? What are your thoughts? Leave your feedback in the comments section below.