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MQS and Critical Thinking

Starting January 1, 2018, this product will become discontinued. Please contact STS at 1.800.642.6787 or to get special pricing while supplies last.

The Measure of Questioning Skills (MQS) was designed to assist teachers in determining the “quantity” and “quality” of students’ questions and to encourage students to understand and learn the value of questioning in their school and life experiences. The goal of empowering students to ask questions helps educators expand their students’ thinking skills and move them in the direction of higher level questioning. The development of good questioning skills should make students better prepared to confront the “unknown”.

The MQS is a good assessment tool to measure the success of critical thinking skills embedded in the Common Core State Standards, specifically the Speaking & Listening standards under the category of Comprehension and Collaboration. The Measure of Questioning Skills, Forms A and B, are each composed of four pictures depicting various situations that elicit questions. In a specified time, an individual records as many questions as possible that relate to ambiguous pictures.

Teachers can also use the handbook entitled Developing Student Questions—A Handbook of Tips and Strategies for Teachers, available for purchase through Scholastic Testing Service, Inc.


Starting January 1, 2018, this product will become discontinued. Please contact STS at 1.800.642.6787 or to get special pricing while supplies last.

The Status of Student Questions
Questioning is frequently used in classrooms, but rarely as a knowledge-seeking method. Those who ask questions - teachers in oral and written form (texts, tests) – are not seeking knowledge; those who should seek knowledge, the students, do not ask questions. Researchers have documented the great numbers and kinds of teacher questions. However, little is known about student questions.

Characteristics of Student Questioning
Observational research studies were done in classrooms to determine the numbers and kinds of questions students ask. The results of observing teachers and students in discussion in 27 high schools revealed the following:
—60% of teacher talk was questions;
—6% of student talk was interrogative, with less than 1% consisting of information-seeking questions.

The majority of student questions were conversational (“What? I didn’t hear.”); self-answered/rhetorical (“Where is it? – in the kitchen”); argumentative (“I don’t think we should help them. There are problems in our own country. Why should we help another country?”); and informational (“Is there any way we can check the water for that pollutant?”). In this study, high school students nearing graduation asked more argumentative questions than informational questions.

Other Observations
The finding that students ask few questions in classrooms is well documented by many researchers. No one has ever gone into a sample of classrooms and heard a lot of student questions. Students do not ask questions.
At the same time, it is known that children do ask questions, and that they ask more questions as they get older. Also, it has been documented that children ask fewer oral questions in school than out of it, and fewer and fewer questions as they progress through school. By contrast, researchers found that the number of informational questions increased significantly with age.

The Place of the Question in the Sequence of Intelligent Behavior
The sequence of intelligent behavior comprises a set of four teachable, learnable skills of intelligence: observation, questioning, hypothesis formation, and hypothesis testing. These four skills are part of a process more operationally muddled than the word “sequence” suggests. The mind at work, in fact, races back and forth among these behaviors until it reaches a satisfied hypothesis.


Starting January 1, 2018, this product will become discontinued. Please contact STS at 1.800.642.6787 or to get special pricing while supplies last.

Historians identify a number of key inventions and discoveries in the cultural development of humankind-two obvious examples are the invention of the wheel and the discovery of fire. Movable type, the internal combustion engine, and the clock have all had far-reaching effects. The twentieth century has produced nuclear energy and the computer. These inventions and discoveries truly merit the description “marvelous”.

Underlying all of them is another marvelous, though often overlooked, invention-the posing of a question. It is a shame that our familiarity with this ability causes us to lose sight of some important aspects of questioning – most notably its constantly renewing effects.

Years ago, Arno Penzias, Nobel Laureate, addressed the Swedish Parliament on the occasion of his award of the prize for physics. In a somewhat surprising address, Penzias spoke of the importance of asking questions, giving voice to the chilling thought that in school, we learned as children not to ask questions.

Certainly, schools do not want to teach children not to ask questions. Daily observations of teachers reveal their concern for this skill. Most instructional sessions end with the remark, “Are there any questions?” All too frequently, the responses are questions relating to procedure rather than substance: “How many pages did you say we had to read? Does this assignment count?” In some classes, students do ask questions, but this is usually the exception; most children seem to have learned the lesson of which Penzias spoke.

Biographical literature, especially the biographies of scientists, include many references to the disposition of the subjects to ask questions. Sometimes, the description takes on a loftier tone, describing the person as having an inquiring mind. The unfortunate abstraction steals from the strength of the better description: “As a child he asked many questions.” An educator prefers that description, because it supports the possibility of teaching children to ask questions. An “inquiring mind” sounds like a gift; we need to emphasize that the skill of questioning is a teachable one.

The act of asking a question shows a mind not quite at ease. Asking a question itself creates a tension within the person which persists until relieved by an answer that satisfies. A question asked shows a mind willing to learn.

A question placed in a conversation acts like a still photograph in the sense that it stops the action underway. In fact, the language has conventions which demonstrate this aspect. People may use the polite entry, “I don’t quite understand; would you please…?” or the more aggressive “Hold it right there! What did you mean when you said…?” These questions permit the exploration of a concept, in the same way that a still photograph encourages the analysis of a scene.

It helps to visualize questions as the fingers of the mind. Just as fingers on a hand can open to pick up an object, dismantle it, or turn it so the eye may explore it from different aspects, questions open the mind to explore an idea or concept. Just as the use of fingers is refined through practice, the refinement of questioning is also achieved through practice and coaching.

A number of influences combine to dampen the spirit of questioning in school. In our culture as a whole, we have had the disposition to respect authority, and schools enjoy some of the respect. The literate base of society and education lends immense credit to the written word. Schools teach a reverence for books as the vessels of truth. The constraints of a classroom can discourage the comparison of the writings of different “authorities” on a topic. Exploration of different authorities would demonstrate that even on “facts” people disagree. The inclination to question demonstrates a healthy, searching, skepticism. Teachers protest that the demands of the prescribed courses of study consume the time available for instruction. To a person unfamiliar with schoolroom routines, this matter of constraints to “cover the course” seems somehow inadequate as an explanation for scrimping on the teaching of questions. However, it must be understood that a complex structure moderates the teacher’s work. Departments of education have programs of studies and curriculum guides shot through with core subjects, required topics, prescribed texts. Students take achievement tests and diploma exams, competency tests, and tests of basic skills. The classroom teacher has evaluators to assess the “quality of instruction.” These factors themselves need not discourage the development of a setting in which students learn to ask questions. However, they often leave the teacher uncomfortable with taking the time to deal with the spontaneous inquiry of students.

Curriculum developers have tried with varying degrees of success to overcome the tendency to teach content by developing the “inquiry method” of instruction. When used according to design, this method requires the direct teaching and use of questions as the guide to study. Its widespread use would make Penzias’s criticism of schools as archaic as the practice of “birching”.

Perhaps schools have erred in seeing questioning as an attitude and therefore, in some way, responsive to admonition and encouragement; and perhaps schools have placed too much emphasis on questioning by the wrong person, namely the teacher. Teachers will find a productive course in understanding questioning as a skill or a behavior, subject to analysis, demonstration, practice, and development. In short, they should see it as a skill which they can teach, and which students need to learn.

Sample Model

Starting January 1, 2018, this product will become discontinued. Please contact STS at 1.800.642.6787 or to get special pricing while supplies last.

One of the challenges facing students today is how to manage information in a constructive and purposive way. The Management of Information Model (see below) was devised in three stages of conceptualizing the management of information, namely, gathering information, organizing information, and extending information. Certain types of questions can be used to manage information at each stage. This is meant to be used as a guide for students to manage information which ultimately and eventually results in effective learning.



Sample Student Score Sheet


Research Opportunity and Pricing

Scholastic Testing Service, Inc. is pleased to offer you the opportunity to be part of our standardization study for the MQS. The standardization study helps ensure that the assessment continues to yield valid and reliable scores. Schools willing to participate in the study will get all testing materials, shipping charges and scoring services for FREE!

To participate in the
MQS study, you must be able to:
—administer the assessment to any or all grade levels 3–10
—complete testing and send booklets back to STS for scoring

Schools will receive individual student information. Reports will show the frequency of student questions categorized and reported in:
Gathering Information, Organizing Information, Extending Information and then given a Composite Score.

Teachers can also use the handbook entitled Developing Student Questions—A Handbook of Tips and Strategies for Teachers, available for purchase through Scholastic Testing Service, Inc.

To order the MQS or to learn more, call us at 1-800-642-6787.

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