Provocative Questions…

Mathew Teakle on 17 May, 2015

Have you had the experience of hearing somebody give advice or an opinion on something they know nothing about? You knew they were wrong because you knew the truth. A friend once told me about a time when he was on a ferry in San Francisco and overheard a man talking about how he was training to be a pilot. As my friend listened, he realised this guy knew nothing about being a pilot at all. Most of what he had to say about pilot training and flying was so wrong that my friend concluded this guy had never even been in a cockpit. Even though my friend was in fact a pilot with years of experience, he held his tongue and smiled at the thought of challenging this guy in front of his spellbound audience. My friend had the knowledge to challenge this guy’s assertions about piloting – but was too polite to intervene. (A good idea – keyword: awkward.)

You’re meant to challenge and engage an essay question and its assertions. It’s often helpful to ask the question – er, well… questions! So ‘Mr Question’ what do you believe already? What’s your contention? What do you want from me? (Personication of an essay question may seem silly, but trust me – it works.) The point is this: you’re meant to engage conceptually with the question (not just restate it). You’re meant to know so much of what you’ve been set for study that every question thrown your way provokes your ‘knowledge nerves’ – causing you to respond properly. Restating an essay question is like my friend not (wisely) speaking out, but for HSC and VCE students restraint is the last thing you need – speak out! Have a thesis! Be bold!

Thesis statements are built on this principle: Let the essay question provoke a clear, organic statement of your position.

Markers love thesis statements that show you have something to say. A merely restated question is like sugar free ice cream – what’s the point?!