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Often in class, professors will ask questions to the class. Usually, I'll at least think I know the answer to the question, so naturally I want to answer it.

The problem is that my hand shouldn't constantly be up throughout the class. I need to make sure all of the students have a chance to think through the material and try to formulate their own answers rather than providing one for them every time.

On the other hand, I worry that if I don't raise my hand, my professors will think that I don't know the answer, I haven't read the material, or I haven't thought through a line of reasoning.

How should I as a student balance answering questions, showing that I understand the course material being presented, and not looking like a know-it-all?

This is similar to this answer, but from the other side.

I try to present that I know the material in tests and papers, but even then I don't always do well, as I'm much better at understanding a concept than doing assignments on them.

Possible duplicates, only found after posting:

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    1. At university level, there shouldn't be classes but lectures. And student participation in lectures is usually not evaluated/graded. 2. Just don't raise your hand always immediately. Give other students a chance and if nobody raises their hand, raise yours. That way, you will seen as somebody who usually answers the more difficult questions.
    – Roland
    Apr 28 at 5:25
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    "I'm much better at understanding a concept than doing assignments on them." Whenever I hear/read a student making this claim (which happens quite frequently), I feel obliged to politely point out that, with high probability, they are deceiving themselves: being able to actually work with a concept is an integral part of understanding it. Apr 28 at 6:27
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    @Roland Please consider posting your comment as an answer; in my view your advice 2 is better than the existing answer. Apr 28 at 14:22
  • @Roland This is not necessarily true. At the college I attended, the classes for undergraduates had 10-20 students in each, and they were definitely classes, not lectures.
    – Esther
    Apr 28 at 14:29
  • Don't raise your hand so much. That is all. I wrote this as an answer, and it was deleted by a moderator. But some questions do have simple answers.
    – Oliver882
    Apr 28 at 20:05

3 Answers 3

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I just wanted to address one point:

On the other hand, I worry that if I don't raise my hand, my professors will think that I don't know the answer, I haven't read the material, or I haven't thought through a line of reasoning.

This is not why the professor is asking - or at least, not specifically about you. Typically, an instructor will ask questions to:

  • Gauge if "the class" is following - obviously that will vary between people, but if everyone looks baffled and glassy-eyed at the question, it's a useful sign that they might be lost, and the instructor should give them a chance to catch up before moving on to more advanced material.
  • Create a more interactive learning experience. Many modern teaching methods posit that the traditional one-directional info-dump method of lecturing results in poor retention, superficial learning and limited engagement. Whether this assessment is valid and whether random classroom questions are the best way to go about it are questions beyond the scope of this answer, but many instructors use questions to address these concerns, or at least jolt students off their phones.
  • Manufacture a learning moment - for example, ask a question where the intuitive answer is non-trivially wrong, or it's common for a (general) population to give a variety of answers, then follow up with an analysis. This can be more engaging that just saying "x% of people choose to reroute the trolley", or something like that, although it can put the answerer on the spot a bit.

Now, there's nothing more frustrating than asking a question to be answered by stony silence, so thank you for being willing to answer, but classroom questions are not exams and you shouldn't feel that you need to prove your knowledge. In some cases, some wrong answers can be more useful from a didactic perspective - they can stimulate a dialogue, engage people's curiosity, make them feel more invested in the dicussion. So hold back a little - this will not reflect badly on you.

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    Good points. All three of them.
    – Buffy
    Apr 28 at 14:56
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It is the professor's responsibility to manage the class including who they call on to answer. There really isn't an issue about trying too hard. I answered a lot of questions, but I also asked a lot of them and pointed out to a lecturer when I didn't understand something (in math) and wondered if it were correctly stated. My peers assumed I was smarter than I was because I asked and answered questions.

But another issue you raise is that you are "much better at understanding a concept than doing assignments on them". I think that is probably incorrect. Having an immediate grasp of something isn't necessarily insight, but it can "feel like" insight. Until you can apply the knowledge you don't really "understand" it. Otherwise you just carry around a bunch of "facts". Work for a deeper understanding by doing exercises and applying the knowledge. Work to be able to do more than the minimum required.

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I think a great way to balance always answering questions and wanting to show you are trying/engaged is to keep being conscious of answering all the questions and try to go to office hours! It is truly a win-win situation because you can ask for help with the topics you need help with to get a higher grade on those tests/papers, can show the knowledge you do know, and you get to know your professor better (which is great for when you need letters of recommendation).

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