Why should we think twice before answering questions with phrases such as, "it's really simple" or "the solution is very easy"?

3 Answers
Jun 29, 2015


Because what seems easy, straight-forward, or simple to you may be something a student has struggled to understand for a while now.


One of the best parts about Socratic is that it is an anonymous way for students to ask questions, even very basic questions. When we answer a question with, "If you think about it, it's really simple" or something along these lines, you might not realize that a topic you find easy to understand is a topic the student has seriously struggled with.

These phrases seem harmless, and some of the time they probably are. Other times a student may have already asked a teacher for help, searched for the answer on the internet, and that student is still stuck. Many students of all ages don't feel comfortable enough to raise their hand in class and ask for help, but they should be able to do so here. By saying, "If you think about it, it's really simple," you imply that the person hasn't thought about the topic, and you imply that the answer is easy, which it might not be.

Everyone has struggled with some subject at one point in their life, and for all you know, the person asking this question might be having a very difficult time, so, in my opinion, omit these types of phrases and stick to explaining the topic.

Jul 1, 2015


I also avoid telling my students "This is a difficult problem".


I don't want to intimidate them. Nor do I want them to decide, "I only need a C, so I'll skip the hard problems."
I do sometimes admit that a problem is "tedious".

I think it is instructive for interested students to try to solve even the most challenging problems.

I spent many hours trying to trisect an angle with compass and straightedge in high school geometry class. (That was years before I learned that it is not possible)

I worked a lot on the twin prime conjecture and Fermat's last theorem as an undergraduate. (and the four color theorem and . . . )

In graduate school, I had instructors who would assign unsolved problems as homework -- without telling us they were unsolved.

Jan 20, 2016

Because each question asker comes from a different background of what they know, how they learned it, how their relationship is with their professor/teacher, etc.

Something that seems easy to you may be causing the asker 3 hours of writing and erasing, paper crumpling, what have you. It seems easy to you probably because you can intuit what the main concepts are that you need to incorporate, because you've done it before, but we all started out struggling with the same main concepts at that time, most likely.

Not everyone's a genius (and it doesn't take much effort to figure that out; it takes effort to embrace that---because now you have to do more work!), and so it's worth accommodating for that.

It then becomes your "duty", so to speak, to assume that the asker doesn't know enough to breeze through the question, and approach it as if the asker is the average student who is genuinely confused. That's something that's always a safe thing to do, to cover readers of multiple backgrounds---assume less, not more.

For example, maybe someone asks, "What is the slope of #y = 5#?" (it's been asked quite a few times, in all actuality). You might say, "this is super easy, are you kidding me? It's #0#! A horizontal line!"

Okay, maybe to you, but the asker doesn't necessarily realize what #y = 5# looks like. They may be fundamentally confused as to what a graph looks like with no #x# variable dependence, because they may have been taught #y = mx + b#, but never really figured out that #y = 5# is just #y = mx + b# without the #mx#. It takes you pointing that out for them to realize that.