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Questioning techniques – part two

Last time I gave a few ideas regarding questioning techniques which new teachers, trainers and assessors could use.

This covered:

  • Open and closed questions
  • Using verbal questions
  • Involving learners during a group session
  • Tips when questioning

This month I’ll briefly cover the following:

  • Examples of questions
  • Preparing questions
  • Written questions
  • Multiple choice questions
  • Examples of questions

There are many questioning techniques you could use such as open, closed, probing, prompting, clarifying, leading, hypothetical, reflective, and rhetorical. Some questioning techniques are better than others, and it will take practice to use the ones which are most effective for your particular learners. Here’s a few examples:

Open: ‘How would you……?’

Closed: ‘Would you……?’

Probing: ‘Why exactly was that?’

Prompting: ‘What about…?’

Clarifying: ‘Can you go over that again?’

Leading: ‘So what you are saying is… ‘

Hypothetical: ‘What would you do if…?’

Reflective: ‘If you could do that again, how would you approach it?’

Rhetorical: ‘Isn’t that a great display that Peter has put together for his practical assignment?’ Rhetorical questions are good for engaging your learner in conversation, but they usually only require your learner to agree or disagree with you. They should be followed up with another type of question to elicit knowledge, as should closed questions.

Preparing questions

If there are no clear guidelines or assessment criteria for you to base your questions on, you might find yourself being subjective rather than objective. That is, you make your own decision without any guidance, and therefore base it on your opinion rather than fact. It is harder to remain objective when learners are responding to open questions which do not have any clear assessment criteria to follow, or any expected response as a guide. When preparing questions, you need to know what you are asking and why. You also need to prepare an example of an expected response, this will help you remain objective.

If there are clear guidelines or assessment criteria for you to follow, make sure you only ask questions which are relevant to what is being assessed. Do be careful with the use of jargon – just because you understand it doesn’t mean your learners will.

Written questions

If you produce written questions for your learners to answer, think how you will do this, i.e. short questions, essay-style questions with word counts, open, closed or multiple choice. If you are giving grades, e.g. A, B, C, or pass/merit/distinction, you must have clear grading criteria to follow to make sure your decisions are objective, in the event that your learners might challenge your decisions. Grades are different to marks in that a mark indicates it’s right or wrong, whereas a grade puts the learner in a particular band.

If you are using the same questions with different learners at different times, be careful as they may pass the answers to each other. You may need to rephrase some questions if your learners are struggling with an answer as poor answers are often the result of poor questions. For essay and short-answer tests you should create sample answers to have something with which to compare. If there are several assessors involved, you could all answer the questions first, and then compare the responses with each other. This will help ensure the questions have been interpreted correctly, aid the standardisation process, and give consistent marks to learners.

If you issue any assessment activities as homework, you need to plan your own time accordingly to ensure you are able to assess all the work that will be submitted by a certain date. It could be that your organisation expects you to assess and give feedback within a certain time period, for example, seven days.

Multiple choice questions

If you are writing multiple-choice questions, there should be a clear question and three or four possible answers. The question is known as the stem, the answer is called the key and the wrong answers are called distracters. Answers and distracters should always be similar in length and complexity (or types of words, diagrams and pictures). They should not be confusing, and there should only be one definite key.

Good example of a multiple choice question

Formative assessment is always:
(A) before the programme commences
(B) at the beginning of the programme
(C) ongoing throughout the programme
(D) when the programme ends.

You will see that all the answers contain a similar amount and type of words. The term programme is used in all responses for consistency. None of the answers contains a clue from the question. A, B and D are the distracters and C is the correct answer (the key).

Poor example of the same multiple choice question

Formative assessment is always:
(A) carried out when the learners are interviewed on a one to one basis before the course starts
(b) at the beginning
(C) ongoing throughout the programme
(d) when the qualification ends and all assessments have taken place.

You will see that each answer has a different amount and type of words, capital and lower cases letters are used for the question numbers, and course, programme and qualification are used to denote the same term. A, b and d are the distracters and C is the correct answer (the key).

If you are using multiple choice questions with learners, it might be an idea to give them a few examples to practice with first. This is just in case they are not familiar with their format. It can also be beneficial for learners to write a few multiple choice questions themselves (as peer assessment) to test the rest of the group. This gives them an insight into how the questions are formatted and how thoroughly they need to read exactly what the question is asking, before choosing a response.

The above text is an amended extract from Principles and Practices of Assessment (2016) by Ann Gravells.

This article is copyright Ann Gravells.

The next article from Ann Gravells will be based on the Newbubbles National Further Education Conference 24.03.16 Thistle Hotel Heathrow.

Ann Gravells is an author, creator of teacher training resources and an education consultant – she can be contacted via her website:

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