Using Weighted Hinge Questions (WHQs) to Assess Students’ Causal Understanding, pp. 9 of 10


Students who choose Option (a) are essentially describing the trigger factor and its immediate outcome (Level 1). Their task could therefore be to inquire into why President Roosevelt declared war on Japan, and why Japan attacked Pearl Harbour. Their task would encourage them to continue asking a series of “why” questions to help build their causal explanation.

Option (b) focuses on intentions and actions (Level 2), so students who select this option could be tasked to consider whether the outbreak of war in the Asia-Pacific was solely based on Japan’s agency. Possible guiding questions include “what made Japan’s policy possible?” and “what made Japan’s policy more likely?”. These questions guide students to recognize the complex synergy between Japan’s expansionist policy and other factors.

Option (c) reflects a chain reaction of “knock-on causes and effects” (Lee & Shemilt, 2009, p. 46). Students who choose this option could be assigned guiding questions that help them progress from their causal chain reasoning (Level 3) to a more complex causal reasoning that recognizes inter-linkages between an event and another that may not immediately follow it in chronological order.

Students who choose Option (d) are focusing on contextual factors (Level 4) and could therefore be encouraged to consider how the impact of these factors intersected with that of other factors and how this intersection caused the outbreak of war in the Asia-Pacific. This series of questions allows students to deliberate about the inter-linkages of these factors and subsequently develop more sophisticated causal understandings.

Option (e) represents the highest level of understanding that indicates an ability to comprehend complex causal explanations (Level 5). Students who select this option could be tasked to explicate a comprehensive causal explanation using a mind-map or a concept map. This task allows students to make their thinking visible for the teacher to check for their understanding of the causal relationships between the factors discussed in class.


We stress that good WHQs, backed by research-based progression models, should be continually refined to ensure that students’ answers accurately correspond to their respective levels of understanding. The teacher should thus occasionally ask students to verbalize their thoughts on what had led them to choose particular options. Additionally, we encourage teachers to adapt our suggested WHQs and the options we crafted to their lesson objectives and their students’ language abilities. For instance, WHQs could also be used to uncover students’ preconceptions of other historical concepts such as evidence and accounts: improved understanding of these concepts would enable students to craft better responses to source-based case study questions and some SEQs. We have focused on the historical concept of causation here because it has been a key focus of GCE O-Level SEQs. Students’ WHQ responses provide a concrete basis for pedagogical adjustment when adopting a whole-class approach and for differentiated instruction to help students better appreciate the complex and multi-faceted outcomes of each cause and the inter-linkages between the various causes. Students’ refined understanding of historical causation would enable them to write coherent and cohesive content paragraphs in their essays, and craft an evaluative conclusion that meaningfully engages with these causal complexities.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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