Hinge Questions

What is a hinge question?

A check for understanding at a ‘hinge-point’ in a lesson, so-called because of two inter-linked meanings:
1) It is the point where you move from one key idea/activity/point on to another.
2) Understanding the content before the hinge is a prerequisite for the next chunk of learning.1

Dylan Wiliam writes that this helps teachers make a hugely important decision in the classroom; whether to move on or whether to recap and who is ready for this.

Sounds awesome right?

The thing is, writing these questions is hard. It’s hard because they need to be:

  1. Answerable in a short space of time (Dylan Wiliam suggests 2mins or less)
  2. Possible to interpret in a short space of time (around 15 seconds)
  3. You have to know why students have answered in a certain way

That last part is about the answers being semi-dense2 I won’t go into the details of that, that’s for another post but basically:

  • Any answer a student selects should suggest one, and only one, thought pattern or misconception
  • It should be impossible for incorrect though processes to reach a correct answer

So here is what I tried today:


And here is my rationale:


It’s not perfect; I’m happy enough that the question tells me what students do or do ot understand, but not what their thinking is. It’s a first step. The writing of the questions is easy, it’s making the responses useful that I find hard.

I’m going to finish this post off with a few thoughts:

  1. I am going to keep trying with this, and I’ll post anything I create here, with the idea that I will post the interpretation as well – because that’s the important bit.
  2. I would love to share ideas with anyone who wants to try creating these, or who has some great examples I can use to get myself into a better mindset for this
  3. This site is very cool, but lacks the interpretation element that makes these so crucial. I find myself looking at site and saying “lovely questions – what do they tell me?”
  4. That’s right, they’re multiple choice.

That’s all for now.

1: From Harry Fletcher Wood: Do they understand this well enough to move on
2Dylan Wiliam wrote a paper about this

This entry was posted in Conferences, General Maths Thoughts, Hinge Questions, Lessons, Pedagogy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Hinge Questions

  1. Pingback: Maths Teachers – Ideas for the New Year and one less lesson to plan! | Neil Atkin

  2. Hi Nik,

    I am one of the creators of http://www.diagnosticquestions.com, thanks for the mention! We agreed with your point about having explanations of misconceptions, so we’ve added it. When you create questions you are now asked to add an explanation, it is optional but hopefully lots of teachers will add an explanation. When you search for questions you can filter by questions which have an explanation.

    I really hope you find this useful, we would love it if you shared your questions on there.

    Kind regards,


    • nik_d_maths says:

      That’s fantastic – thanks Simon! I’ll find a way to share my creations on there. Something else that might be nice is a way to comment on other people’s questions?

      • Brilliant, you’ll probably find it easiest to follow the instructions for PowerPoint (simply upload the images).

        Comments are a difficult one, great to have feedback, but really opens the site up to spammers unfortunately. We have built in a “report” system which sends your comments to the question author without showing them on the question page. That is mainly for reporting incorrect answers/spamming.

      • nik_d_maths says:

        No worries – it’s nice there is a facility to communicate with the author! Have you thought about a CAPTCHA or Askimet to reduce spam comments?

        Is it possible to have more than 4 answers as options and some sort of category for other Post 16 Topics such as Mechanics and Decision? I would be happy to compile a list for you.

        All the questions; I love the potential for your site sir!

      • Captcha is an option but it doesn’t stop the human spammers (also I cannot stand Captchas!). I will look into alternative methods.

        We discussed whether to have many answers or limit to 4 and opted for 4 to keep things simple but we may return to that in future. I’ll have to defer to Craig for the topic list as he put that together. I’ll DM our email addresses on twitter.

        Glad you like it. We really like the power of collecting the data on incorrect answers, so even before you ask your class you can see what misconceptions others have had.

      • nik_d_maths says:

        Hi Simon,

        You make a good point about CAPTCHA! They can be frustrating. I don’t always find the DM system on twitter very efficient, so feel free to email me: nik dot mort at gmail dot com. I’d really like to chat about the possibilities behind what you are doing!


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