Usually–when it’s discussed at all–the kinds of questions stakeholders in education believe ‘students should be able to answer’ are academic (content-based), or practical (life skills). All of these, to varying degrees, are useful questions for students to be able to answer. The key is priority and personalization. What’s most important for that student in that place what that past and that future?

by Terry Heick


Usually–when it’s discussed at all–the kinds of questions stakeholders in education believe ‘students should be able to answer’ are academic (content-based), or practical (life skills).

Academic questions might include:

How can I use reading strategies to make sense of a text? What is the scientific process? How can I calculate the area of a square or the probability that I’m going to draw a red ball out of this bag versus green? How do governments function?

‘Life skill-based’ questions might include:

How do I apply for a job? How can I create a resume and cover letter that reflects what an employer is looking for? How do I know how much of what medicine I should take, when? How do I open a bank account? How can I create and sustain a balanced budget? What should I do if I feel like I’m being bullied or threatened?

All of these, to varying degrees, are useful questions for students to be able to answer. The key is priority and personalization. What’s most important for that student in that place what that past and that future?

Public education is not designed to even begin answering that kind of question. This is, in part, because education is standardized and built to ‘scale,’ whereas the value of such standardization is limited for most students. So I came up with some questions that, in a perfect world, a student would be able to answer before graduating high school.

A lot of these questions are abstract and open-ended and counter to what is generally taught in schools. And, of course, this is all subjective. Every parent alive would likely come up with a different list (a great start to homeschooling, if that’s your thing).

But after 13+ years and hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not more) invested in that child and their ‘knowledge set,’ it’d be great if they could at least begin to create a credible response that makes sense to them.

50 Questions Every Student Should Be Able To Answer Before They Graduate High School

1. What are people ‘for’? What should a person ‘do’? What is my life philosophy about people and work and knowledge and relationships?

2. Who and ‘where’ am I? Who do I depend on, who depends on me, and how should each inform my values, behaviors, and affections? What are my physical, digital, and emotional interdependencies?

3. What do I know, and what can and should I do with what I know? What are the limits of what I know/my knowledge, and how can those limits inform my behaviors?

4. What do I love? How has that changed over the course of my life so far? What contributes to love and affection? What are its causes and effects? How should love guide my life–and how should it not?

5. What kinds of questions should I be asking on a daily basis—of myself and the people and world around me? Where can I find reliable sources of information to answer my questions?

6. What kinds of conversations should I be having with whom, and how? What does it mean to truly listen to someone, and how should that impact my conversations with them? What are the strengths and weaknesses of certain forms of communication and technology? A conversation versus texting versus a phone call versus a threaded social-media-based debate?

7. When am I at my best? My most creative? Where is my genius? What are the patterns in the kinds of things I tend to be interested in and curious about and is there anything I should ‘take away’ from those patterns? What are my habits, and what are the results of those habits? What are the habits of the person I want to be, and how can I adjust accordingly?

8. What do I ‘believe’? Where do my beliefs come from? How do my beliefs frame and influence what I believe I ‘see,’ and vice-versa? What do I tend to pay attention to and notice on a daily basis? What are the effects of that focus? Should it be refined? How will I know? What are my thinking ‘blind spots’? Cognitive biases, cultural biases, tendencies towards confirmation bias, etc?

9. What’s the difference between a fact and an opinion? Why are they easy to get confused? Why is it important to know the difference?

10. How can I discuss something with someone I disagree with? How can I disagree with someone while learning from them? How can I ‘make a point without making an enemy’? How can I separate a person from an idea? Are there times when that is easier/more difficult?

11. What is the relationship between my thinking, my beliefs, and my behavior (e.g., my work/career, what I read, my priorities, who I hang out with, etc.)?

12. What sorts of thinking and information should go into a decision? Where should I tolerate uncertainty and where should I try to insist on ‘being sure’?

13. What are logical fallacies and thinking traps, and how can and should I avoid them to do better work, have healthier relationships, and create a sense of well-being so that I can define contentment and happiness for myself as I grow older?

14. What influences me, and how can and should I control those influences to my advantage?

15. How do I apologize to someone? How do I know when to do so–and what words and tone and medium to use?

16. What’s possible–for me in my life? What can I dream? Imagine? What should I read, watch, and create? What can I learn from watching others–looking ‘out’? And what can I learn from looking within? How can the two work together?

17. Where do my morals come from? If I have a clear ‘ethical system,’ what is it and what are its influences? And if I don’t, why not? What do I risk/gain by not having one that is at least somewhat defined? What do I risk/gain if I do?

18. What is the difference between learning and education, and how should each serve me in my life?

19. When should I lead and when should I follow? When should I talk and when should I listen?

20. What role can creativity play in my life? Innovation? Disruptive thinking?

21. What are my priorities, and how do my choices and behaviors reflect/not reflect those priorities?

22. How do I define ‘success’? What, if anything, has been holding me back from success (or even more success than I’ve already experienced), and how should I respond?

23. What is the best way to research something? What’s the difference between ‘research’ and ‘Googling’?

24. What is the relationship between a thought, a belief, and behavior? How does one affect one (or both) of the others?

25. How can I decide if something is true or false?

26. What are my goals? How can I categorize those goals? And in light of those goals, what’s the best way to spend the next five years of my life? How have my goals changed over the last five years and why?

27. How can I learn something from everyone I meet?

28. What is the difference between your ‘work,’ a ‘job,’ and a ‘career’? What’s the best way to perform a ‘job search’? How do most people go about this, and how can I do better?

29. How do I respond to challenging situations? How can I reframe my thinking in certain situations, and to what effect?

30. What are my sources of stability, and how can I serve and protect them–and use them to grow?

31. What seems to make me happy? And how do I distinguish between contentment, joy, and happiness?

32. How does timing affect living?

33. Who in my life do I owe what, and why? How should I respond as a result? What am I accountable for? And to whom? What does the world need from me? What do I need from the world?

34. What should I read and why?

35. What role can art, music, and theater play in my life?

36. How can I be more aware of my ‘self’ so that I have a clear and accurate view? What I believe and do? My values? My shortcomings–those I should accept, and those I should work to improve?

37. What lessons can I take from my parents/immediate family as I prepare for ‘the real world’?

38. Who do I consider inspirational/heroic and why? What effect might this have on my ambitions and potential?

39. Where have I succeeded/struggled academically and why? How has this affected me? How should I respond?

40. What’s the problem with the word ‘smart’?

41. What is the relationship between knowledge and critical thinking?

42. How can I understand different ‘situations’ in my life, and how I can use knowledge and critical thinking together to do so?

43. What is the value of another person’s opinion? Does it change depending on what that ‘opinion’ is about–if it’s about me versus a political issue versus how to raise children or buy the ‘right’ house, etc?

44. What are the most important things I’ve learned in school? What can I do with those things that I’ve learned?

45. Which concepts and ideas have I not learned about–or much about–that I should have? What knowledge gaps are most and least important for me in light of who and where I am? And to where and I want to ‘go’?

46. Which skills and competencies come naturally for me, which not so much, and how should I respond?

47. What is a digital footprint and how can I analyze and revise mine to align with who I believe I am and want to be?

48. How can I stay safe–online and offline–by using my ability to think, adapt, and communicate?

49. What is the difference between learning math and science and history versus thinking like a mathematician, scientist, and historian? What can I learn from these differences?

50. What effect do I want to have on the world, and where should I start?