It all hinges on this question

By John Parkin. Posted

A hinge question about networks for lower-secondary students. Credit: Diagnostic Questions

Originally published in Hello World 20: Systems and networks, Jan 2023. All information true at the time of original publishing.

The CAS Assessment Working Group share how hinge questions can be a powerful assessment-for-learning strategy in the computing classroom

Formative assessment offers all teachers the power to gauge how well children are learning in lessons. Awareness of formative assessment has grown since the publication of the article Inside the Black Box ( Here, researchers Black and Wiliam explained that teachers need to use teaching approaches to understand what is going on inside the brains of each learner in the classroom. This greater understanding led to new classroom strategies, including the introduction of hinge questions ( Teachers can use hinge questions across all age ranges and subjects, and they are particularly useful for computing teachers. In this article, I will explain what hinge questions are, how to use them in the classroom, and how they can work in computing lessons.

What are hinge questions?

The idea behind hinge questions is quite simple. During a lesson, how can a teacher quickly find out whether learners have understood the lesson content? To help answer this, the teacher presents a multiple-choice question about the key concept being taught. As well as the correct answer, the question will contain alternative incorrect answers that include misconceptions students might hold about the topic (these are called ‘distractors’).

Two multiple-choice questions that can be used as hinge questions. Credit: BBC Bitesize.

The teacher should get a quick response from each student in the class, so they can gauge whether learners have understood the concept. This does not need to be complicated: learners can use their fingers to indicate if the correct answer is 1, 2, 3, or 4. Other strategies include having an ABCD card, small whiteboards, or electronic voting systems. Using these approaches can help the teacher make a quick decision about next steps. Once the votes are in, it is decision time! Based on the answers, the teacher can decide to carry on with Plan A and continue the lesson, or go to Plan B and return to consolidate understanding about the main concept. It’s as simple as that!

To create a good hinge question, it is important to spend time devising it. You need to boil down the main idea you’re teaching, and anticipate any misconceptions and errors. By combining the correct answer with three to five distractors considering the misconceptions students could make, you’ll ensure you really see who knows the correct answer. Careful planning will pay dividends later on!

In the computing classroom

While hinge questions might immediately lend themselves to questions that are more theoretical in nature, you can also use them with more practical aspects of computing. For example, you could show students screenshots of code created in Scratch and ask them to identify the correct sequence. While it will take a little longer to create hinge questions like this, it will support pupils’ learning.

If you want to create your own hinge question for a computing lesson, think about a misconception students frequently have and the kind of incorrect answers they share with you. Based on this, you can then create your question. If you are teaching a new topic, looking at misconceptions that others have identified could be a good start — for example, a blog post on the Computing at School website lists several common misconceptions in a range of topics and across different ages ( BBC Bitesize ( and Diagnostic Questions ( also offer a number of free multiple-choice questions that computing teachers could use as hinge questions.

In summary, hinge questions offer a quick and efficient way of helping computing teachers to identify whether or not students have understood the concepts covered in a lesson. Why not try using them in your classroom today?


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