The key to good grades is mastering basic critical thinking skills. Something as simple as knowing how to ask questions when you are reading or listening can dramatically improve comprehension and retention. These skills will serve you well when giving speeches, writing papers or winning a debate with a friend. Having a solid understanding of different question prompts will allow you to formulate better answers and logically frame your next questions or counter arguments.
Defining Literal Questions
Literal questions require concrete, straightforward answers. Answers to literal questions are always facts, and there is always one correct answer. In reading comprehension exercises, answers to literal questions can always be found in the text. Answers to literal questions might shed light on the who, what, where and when. Asking literal questions is the starting point for understanding what is being communicated. You cannot effectively respond or evaluate an argument until you objectively determine the facts, which gives you context for understanding the big picture.
Examples of Literal Questions
Literal questions ask for answers that are specific and can be confirmed and therefore agreed upon by many people. Examples include: "What time does the concert start?" "What size do you wear?" "What references did you use to write your paper?" "Who was the protagonist in the story?" "How many inches are in a foot?" Asking literal questions gives you a deeper, richer understanding of new material. Learning is more difficult if you don't have a solid foundation upon which to build.
Defining Inferential Questions
Inferential questions require answers that require context clues. Inferential questions are tougher to answer because they can have more than one correct answer. In reading comprehension exercises, answers to inferential questions cannot be found in the text, but they are supported by evidence in the text. Answers to inferential questions shed light on why and how. It is important to consider what can be inferred from the facts because you can learn so much more through closer inspection.
Examples of Inferential Questions
Inferential questions ask for answers that you arrive at by gleaning background information and finding a conclusion without allowing your own opinion to color the answer. Examples include: "How did you arrive at that conclusion?" and "Why does salt cause ice to melt?" Asking how and why questions helps you weigh the merits of the answers. From there you can develop evaluative questions and responses that do include your own thoughts and ideas.
- Transitional Literacy: Some Suggested Literal and Inferential Questions for The Grasshopper and the Wren and Two Akha Brothers Divided a Turtle
- Google Books: Teaching English Learners in Inclusive Classrooms
- University of Oregon Center on Teaching and Learning: Comprehension
- Teaching with a Mountain View: Literal versus Inferential Thinking
Vivian Gomez contributes to Retailing Today, the Daily Puppy, Paw Nation and other websites. She's covered the New York Comic Con for NonProductive since 2009 and writes about everything from responsible pet ownership to comic books to the manner in which smart phones are changing the way people shop. Gomez received her Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Pace University.