The Importance of Asking Questions

Written by Shambhu Rajeev of Binghampton University

The basis of communication and learning is asking meaningful questions and seeking rich answers. We do this every day in many forms, explicitly and implicitly, whether that is by asking direct questions to other people or doing a quick online search or even looking inward and questioning ourselves. It’s an essential part of human nature to learn new concepts through questioning but we sometimes neglect to ask those important questions and repeat similar mistakes in a loop.

This cannot be more true when it comes to young college students. We are, to some extent, stuck in loops. We have class schedules to follow every day, exams every three weeks or so and we have habits, like drinking on Friday nights, that are we are accustomed to and rarely think twice about. Having patterns in our lives is not the problem, as I have written in my previous post, it is most productive to keep a calendar to maximize daily output. A problem exists when there are mistakes integrated into our patterns. For example, I drive my car almost daily and I have been doing so for years. For the longest time, whenever I drove through my neighborhood, like clockwork, I ran over a small pothole close to my house. And I did it at least twenty times before I ended up with a flat tire because I didn’t bother questioning myself on something that I did so often. My point is that, even discomforts caused by something as small as brainless slow driving in your neighborhood can be proactively avoided by internally questioning your actions. It is when we feel most comfortable in a situation that we are most vulnerable to mistakes.

When it comes to studying for actuarial exams, I keep my pothole experience in mind and try not to repeat the same mistakes. I usually set a few hours every day for my actuarial studies and repeat a schedule every week, so I can learn through reiteration. When I study, I usually practice questions right after learning a specific topic. If I can’t answer the questions presented, I would refer back to the textbook I use. Most times textbooks can provide a solution to the confusing bits, but sometimes that one resource is not enough. If I still have a question on the topic, I search for the question on Actuarial Outpost or reddit.com/r/actuary. These communities exist to answer the tough questions actuarial students come across and it is very likely that someone in the past had a question similar to mine and posted about it. For anyone using Coaching Actuaries, there is a video solution with almost every question, followed by a discussion section that answers any and all doubts regarding that question. At this point, I can be sure to find an answer but if the question still persists, I take the question to the math department in my university where I am sure to find a solution.

I make an effort to not make the same mistake twice because I understand now, after taking a few actuarial exams, that there is minimal room for error. In the past, I have skipped over questions thinking the concepts would become clear later sometime but often times that leads to holes in my understanding. Questioning, analyzing and understanding every topic to the bare bones, in my opinion, is necessary to take an exam with confidence.

Arguably one of the most important skills that a student needs to succeed is the ability to ask questions. Whether it is to oneself or to others, it is an absolute crucial aspect in gaining a larger understanding of any topic.