What Are Literal & Inferential Questions?

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.