Improve Comprehension Skills in Exams

3 Question Techniques to Improve Your Child’s Results

Written by Adele Keyser

Comprehending questions: the place where most children fail. Here’s how to help your child increase exam marks by comprehending questions better.

Why are my child’s History marks so weak? He knew his work so well. My child is struggling to do comprehensions, yet she reads fluently and is an avid reader. I don’t understand. There has been a major drop in my child’s Maths mark and the teacher says it’s not a Maths problem but rather a comprehension problem. Could this be true?

Does this sound familiar? Are you feeling frustrated because you feel useless when it comes to helping your child? “We weren’t questioned in that way when we went to school.” Oh, so true! There have been numerous changes in the curriculum over the years and part of the changes include questioning techniques.

I would like to think that parents would better understand their children’s needs, in certain subjects, if they understand how children are questioned at school.

Why ask questions in the first place?

Teachers ask questions for a variety of purposes, including:

  • To actively involve students in the lesson
  • To increase motivation or interest
  • To evaluate students; preparation
  • To check on completion of work
  • To develop critical thinking skills
  • To review previous lessons
  • To nurture insights
  • To assess achievement or mastery of goals and objectives
  • To stimulate independent learning

It has been proven that effective questioning, emphasizing the important elements of the lesson, result in better comprehension and therefore results.

Types of questions

Teachers base their questions on Bloom’s Taxonomy as follows. The weighting of the different orders differ depending on the grade your child is in – the emphasis changes.

Lower order:

  • Knowledge and recall – recall data and information

Middle order:

  • Comprehension/Understanding
  • Application – use a concept in a new situation

Higher order:

  • Conceptual Reasoning: Analysis – separate concepts into parts
  • Conceptual Reasoning: Synthesis – combine parts to form a new meaning
  • Conceptual Reasoning: Evaluation – make judgements about the values or products

So how can I use this information to help my child?

By knowing some of the wording that is used in the questions in test/exam papers or in a lesson at school, you could help your child be better prepared.  You could also use some of the wording generally in conversation or when discussing a TV programme or after reading a story.

We take it for granted that our children “understand”, but often simple words are misinterpreted.

Here are some examples of frequently used “question” words at the different levels:

  • Low order – count, define, identify, label, list, match, name, quote, select
  • Middle order – classify, compare, discuss, distinguish, describe, estimate, explain, give examples, illustrate, rewrite, summarize, predict, solve, use
  • High order – breakdown, arrange, combine, compile, construct, create, design, organise, evaluate, justify, interpret

These “question” words are used in all subjects.

For example:

(Looking at an old black and white photograph during a History lesson) Explain how you know that this photograph of a lounge with a family sitting around a radio in the 1960’s was not taken in 2015?

The answer would go beyond the “black and white”. It would include answers like: the furniture is different (old-fashioned), hairstyles and fashion is different, etc.

After reading a comprehension story a teacher will often ask if the class agrees with the ending and to justify their answer. Questions of true and false also need to be justified. Your child’s opinion will also be asked e.g. What do you think? Do you agree with the statement? Give a reason for your answer. Quote a sentence from the reading passage to explain your answer.

We as parents can become involved in preparing our children for these questioning techniques in our everyday lives. We need to expose our children to the vocabulary used and the best way to do this is to help our children experience it.

Real life examples to enhance question comprehension:

  • Separate – Let’s separate the colours from the whites when washing; let’s put all the different colour blocks into separate containers
  • Investigate – Let’s go and investigate why the tap is leaking.
  • Repeat – please repeat what you have just said.
  • Select – You may select one chocolate from the box before supper.
  • Match – Please match the pairs of socks for me.

The words can also be used when doing homework or talking about the school day:

  • Discuss – Let’s discuss where you should wait after school if it is raining.
  • Illustrate – Please illustrate the ear for me and label it.
  • Combine – Combine the different ingredients and then we can practice making the cookies for school.

Obviously the last step would be to use the “question” words (on all the levels) when helping your child prepare for tests and exams. It is crucial that your child really understands the work as higher order questions demand answers that come with understanding the content and not mere regurgitation.

A great way to help your child practise answering questions for tests and exams is to use WorksheetCloud‘s huge bank of revision worksheets and exams. This will also be a time-saver for you as a parent.

It often helps if more than one person questions a child after studying as we all tend to think and question differently. This way your child can be exposed to a variety of questions and answers.

Exams are around the corner, so the sooner you begin, the better off your child will be.

Read my 11 Essential Study Tips You Need to Know

The Author - Adele Keyser

Adele has 27 years experience in teaching pre-primary, foundation phase, intermediate-senior phase and adult education. That's 27 years experience in dealing with children (and parents!). Currently teaching in Cape Town, her major focus is building classroom environments that foster healthy self-esteem and help children realise what they're capable of.

WorksheetCloud is the most exciting way to study for exams and tests!

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  1. Adele Dieperink

    Dear Adele

    I absolutely LOVE your articles. I now joined WorksheetCloud and am telling everyone I know about the site and program.

    Kind Regards

  2. Jacqui

    Once again this article is to the point and makes use of such practical sensible information. I look forward to the next one. We are LOVING working through your worksheets, we find them to be of a very high standard. Excellant work.

  3. Gena van der Watt

    Great article. Thanks Adele.

    You have given me the answer I have been looking for so long!

  4. Nazrene Salie

    Great article and very helpful. I’ll definitely be considering the points above when assisting my children.

  5. Nina

    Very useful, thanks Adele!
    You are so right, I have heard many people talk about the curriculum in a negative way, because “it is not what it was like when WE were at school…” The implication is that this is inferior to the old way. This kind of remark is probably due to ignorance and fear of not knowing how to help. The practical ideas you describe are exactly what is needed. Thank you for educating us! 🙂

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    • Kyle Roets

      Hi Jody

      Thanks for your comment!

      We will be sure to pass on your comment to Adele and let her know what you think of her blog post.

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