Stephen Wheeler

eLearning Technologist

Techniques for encouraging critical thinking through MCQs
Published on (Wednesday, February 07, 2018) by Stephen Wheeler.


MCQs are just one type of quiz question available in Blackboard but can be used in several ways to test different aspects of what a student has learned.

These techniques are …

  • Premise-consequence
  • Assertion - reason
  • Analogy
  • Case-study
  • Incomplete scenario
  • Problem/solution evaluation


In a premise-consequence question, students must identify the correct outcome of a given circumstance. You can increase the difficulty by providing more than one premise.

By more than one premise, I mean in the same question - two premises, as long as they don’t contradict one another, leading to a single consequence.

In this example, the premises are the GNP increase rate and the GNP deflator increase rate. Students have to work out the real GNP, testing their knowledge, understanding and application of skills.


The assertion-reason item combines elements of multiple choice and true/false question types, and allows you to test more complicated issues and requires a higher level of learning.

The question consists of two statements, an assertion and a reason. The student must first determine whether each statement is true. If both are true, the student must next determine whether the reason correctly explains the assertion. There is one option for each possible outcome.

Assertion-reason tests can be used to explore cause and effect and identify relationships.


In an analogy question we have a sentence that demonstrates the relationship between two things - in this example, email and un-moderated listserve - then the student has to use the same reasoning to work out the relationship between a third “thing” and a list of possible answers.

Analogy questions requires students to think and reason - to move beyond relying on prior knowledge.

Case study

A case-study might describe scenarios used in class or new scenarios that must be analysed using “skills” taught in a class rather than relying on prior knowledge. It requires students to understand and apply knowledge.

As you can see in this example, a single, well-written paragraph can provide material for several follow-up questions.

Incomplete scenario

Incomplete scenarios require students to respond to what is missing or needs to be changed within a provided scenario.

In this question type you’ll probably notice that it uses elements of the question types we’ve already looked at, such as:

  • Premise-consequence
  • Analogy
  • Case-study

These elements are brought together in a way that student need to use more than just prior knowledge, but also understanding and practical application of knowledge.

Problem/solution evaluation

There are several things required of students in problem/solution evaluation questions: understanding and knowledge, but I think most importantly, it requires critical thinking.

Students are presented with a problem and a proposed solution. They must then evaluate the proposed solution based upon criteria provided.

The student has to think about and evaluate the proposed solution.

The solution isn’t either right or wrong; by degrees it might be more or less complete or thorough.

If nothing else, this type of question is great for helping students prepare for exams and assessment - providing examples of what sort of answers are excellent or not.


In this short video I hope I’ve given you a flavour of how multiple choice questions can demand of students that they think more deeply about their subject and encourage in them a better understanding and how to apply their new knowledge. Ultimately, this is another tool we can use to develop students’ critical thinking.

If you want to explore the use of multiple choice questions in your teaching, please get in touch with the Faculty of Science and Engineering eLearning Team.

We’d be happy to help.