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How to Use ChatGPT for Studying

Should our kids use ChatGPT for learning? Only if it’s a tool, and not a crutch! We look at commonly asked questions about using ChatGPT in the school journey, and offer tips for effective use that only regular users would know!

05 April 2024
1 min read
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Are you worried about your child’s use of AI tools like ChatGPT for studying, as it might affect their critical thinking? Or are you excited to explore this technology with them, while keeping a watchful eye?

A recent CNA report highlighted how teachers in Singapore are guiding students to use ChatGPT for more than just generating answers. We know that some local parents have also incorporated ChatGPT into their own workflows, which puts them in the perfect position to help their children do the same.

Below, we look at commonly asked questions about using ChatGPT in the school journey, and offer tips for effective use that only regular users would know!

Should my child use ChatGPT while studying?

Whether ChatGPT is helpful or harmful for students has been up for debate since its launch in late 2022. From a teacher’s perspective, plagiarism, cheating, and misinformation are the top concerns. On the other hand, ChatGPT can fill the gaps for teachers in scenarios such as these:

  • A student doesn’t understand a teacher’s explanation, despite asking for clarifications.
  • A student has a question while working on homework late at night.
  • During a discussion in class, the teacher lacks prior knowledge to answer a student’s question.
  • A teacher uses jargon in class, which a student wants to quickly decipher without interrupting the flow of teaching.
  • A student needs ideas or direction to start on a project.

The most important thing to understand is that ChatGPT isn’t a source of knowledge in itself. Rather, it’s a ‘large language model’ developed by an artificial intelligence lab called OpenAI, and it has been ‘trained’ on a vast collection of text written by humans. Training involves ‘feeding’ text data to the model so it can learn patterns, such as how words are commonly used together in sentences.

Through this process, the model learns to predict and generate text based on the patterns and contexts it has seen, allowing it to produce responses to questions by estimating the most likely next word or phrase. This ability to predict the next word enables ChatGPT to generate seemingly reasonable answers, even though it doesn’t ‘know’ information in the way that humans do.

What does this mean for students?

It’s clear that ChatGPT can offer an additional layer of academic support, providing instant help with explanations, ideas, and clarifications to complement traditional learning. However, students will need to approach ChatGPT with a critical mind, using it to supplement rather than replace direct learning and verification from reliable sources.

Is my child using ChatGPT effectively?

Let’s look at this in terms of some ChatGPT prompts that your primary or secondary school child might create:

Less Effective ChatGPT Prompt Improved ChatGPT Prompt for Learning
Should it be “I lay in bed yesterday” or “I laid in bed yesterday?” I’m confused about using “lay,” “lie,” and “lain.” Can you give me 5 examples of how to use these words correctly? Display the examples in a table—one column should show a common mistake and the reason why it’s wrong, while the other column gives the correct usage.
[INSERT INFORMATION] #Help me remember this information. I need to memorise this set of bullet points for a test. Give me a mnemonic, or show me another easy way to remember this.
[INSERT QUESTION] #Give me a draft essay for this question. Keep it to 500 words or less. I’m trying to answer this essay question. I want to answer the question by focusing on A, B, and C. But I’m afraid I may be missing some important points. Can you tell me what else I should add, and why?
[INSERT INFORMATION] #Explain this to me. I don’t understand this explanation. Can you explain this to me like I’m a child, and give me an example of how this works in real life?
[INSERT INFORMATION] #What does this mean? I think that this means… Is my understanding accurate?

Here’s a simple checklist that your child can keep in mind when using ChatGPT for learning:

  1. Detail your query: To get a more relevant answer, include details to narrow down the scope of the request. For instance, if asking about historical events, one can specify the period, location, and historical figures of interest.
  2. Give more information: Unlike free users, ChatGPT subscribers can type instructions into the chat bar as well as upload a file, although there is a limit on these uploads. By supplying documents like text files, PDFs, or spreadsheets, you enable more targeted and accurate responses. But please do not upload sensitive documents. For clarity, use a ‘hash comment’ (e.g., # Suggest 3 essay topics based on the above) to separate questions and instructions from information.
  3. Be conversational: Some people use formal and complicated prompts when interacting with ChatGPT. This isn’t necessary — you can ‘talk’ to ChatGPT as you would with a friend. There’s also no need to strive for a perfect prompt to cover all bases. The best way to use ChatGPT is to fine-tune your prompts with multiple requests.
  4. Request specific formats: For easy reading, you can ask ChatGPT for a specific output, such as “10 bullet points” or “a table with columns X and Y.” If the generated answer is too lengthy, you can give a prompt such as, “Out of these 10 points that you’ve supplied, which are the most crucial to know? Narrow it down to the top 5.”
  5. Be questioning: Never assume that ChatGPT’s responses present a full and accurate picture. Responses might not meet all requirements of a prompt; they can also contain inaccuracies and lack logical coherence. In addition, both the free and paid versions of ChatGPT have a ‘knowledge cut-off’ date, which means the models have been trained on data up to a certain date. This can affect responses relating to recent events, although the paid version of ChatGPT can access current information to generate responses.

How can my child use ChatGPT to create a study plan?

A common mantra in motivational circles is “begin with the end in mind,” and the same applies to using ChatGPT to create study plans. For instance, let’s say your teen has some spare time during the one-week March holidays, and wants to use this time to learn coding basics. They could enter a prompt such as this:

“I want to improve my Python skills this week. I’m a beginner who can’t remember codes. Can you give me a 7-day Python learning programme to learn a key skill each day? Include some easy-to-read notes along with 3 exercises of varying difficulty.”

During the school term, if your child has a test to prepare for, here is a sample prompt they could use:

“Hi ChatGPT, I have a maths test coming up in two weeks, and I need help creating a study plan. The test will cover the following topics: arithmetic operations, fractions and decimals, algebraic expressions and equations, geometry (angles, triangles, quadrilaterals), systems of equations, and probability. Can you help me create a study plan to cover these topics over the next week?”

Schools usually provide a study guide to let students know exactly what will be tested — this should include topics as well as subtopics. For a better study plan, this is the list that your child should provide to ChatGPT. And while it may be fun to try and use ChatGPT to generate practice questions, it’s probably better to stick with school test papers or local assessment books.

Will teachers know if my child uses ChatGPT for homework help?

Yes, if your child’s teachers are ChatGPT users, they will be familiar with the format of a typical ChatGPT answer.

Apart from the sudden absence of typos, here are five more telltale signs that schoolwork was completed using ChatGPT:

  1. American spelling and style: In our local schools, students are expected to use British spelling, but ChatGPT’s responses are in American spelling. Also, many local students don’t use the Oxford comma, but ChatGPT does.
  2. Bullet-point responses: ChatGPT aims to present its answers in an organised and structured way, which is why it often uses bullet points. If a student is suddenly supplying all of their answers in bullet points, this could be a red flag.
  3. Overuse of clichés, repeated talking points: As it is technically a predictive tool, ChatGPT tends to use common phrases excessively, such as “navigate through challenges.” Within a single response, ChatGPT will often use the same words repeatedly, and talking points may also be repeated, with slight rephrasing.
  4. Abrupt shifts in writing style: Depending on the prompt, ChatGPT’s responses may vary in writing style, leading to abrupt shifts in tone or language. If a child’s work exhibits inconsistent writing styles within the same assignment, this could indicate the use of ChatGPT.
  5. Unexplained mastery: ChatGPT can provide highly detailed explanations on complex subjects. If a student suddenly demonstrates an expert-level understanding of topics that they previously struggled with, this may indicate that they’ve generated their answer using ChatGPT.

If you know that your child is relying heavily on ChatGPT for homework help but not declaring this in their submissions, please have an open and honest conversation with them about independent learning and academic integrity. You can also give examples to show the difference between using ChatGPT well, and using it poorly.

Besides ChatGPT, what other AI tools can be used for studying?

There may soon come a day where other tools are considered more effective than ChatGPT. The only way to stay up to date is to continually test new tools, and compare the responses that you’re getting with the same prompt.

Here are some other tech tools that your child can try:

Want to talk about ChatGPT and AI with other Singapore parents? Search the KiasuParents website to find a conversation to join!