Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt University

Case study analysis or scenario based questions

A case study enables students to apply theoretical knowledge and practical skills to a situation. It marries the theoretical classroom learning with the clinical work situation for students. Generally, a case study requires learners to analyse and write about a person, a situation, an organisation or a scenario.

Similarly scenario-based assessment is commonly used as a method of problem-based learning. Typically, by using these methods teachers aim to develop student reasoning, problem-solving and decision-making skills (Tunny, Papinczak & Young, 2010; Bloomfield & Magney, 2009).

Case study is a powerful learning tool for solving real-world organisational problems.

Case study in a group situation:

  • thrives on a real and complex crisis requiring group members to draw from and share their experiences to help solve the problem (Garratt, 1997)
  • involves developing problem-solving, teamwork and decision-making skills.
  • allows students to learn by doing, applying what they have learned to a real organisational issue
  • can achieve multiple results simultaneously within a relatively short period (Serrat, 2008).

A case study/scenario can be delivered in the following ways during the COVID-19 situation as an alternative to a paper-based final examination:

  1. Non-time limited final assessment—often known as a ‘take-home’, the task is not performed under ‘exam-like’ time constraints and is provided to students at least several days before the due date. A common platform for submission of such a task is EASTS.
  2. Invigilated online exam—the task is undertaken online under ‘exam-like’ time constraints (typically 1-3 hours) and invigilated remotely.  This category should only be pursued if, in consultation with your Head of School, the above two categories are not viable. DSA will assist with the scheduling of this task.
  3. Time limited, non-invigilated online exam—the task is undertaken online under ‘exam-like’ time constraints (typically 1-3 hours) but is open book, allowing students to refer to any material they can access. DSA can assist with the scheduling of this task.

Pros and cons of case study/scenario based questions

Some advantages:

  • Requires learners to provide an original response.
  • Focuses on the ability to apply skills or knowledge in the solution of problems.
  • Can assess significant content and a number of outcomes.
  • Simulates real life situations.
  • Can allow for group or individual approaches.
  • Can assess higher cognitive skills including application, analysis and evaluation.
  • Involves problem solving and decision making skills in authentic situations.

Some limitations:

  • Can require a large amount of instructor time to assess.
  • Requires considerable time in developing the scope of the case study or the parameters of the cases that may be looked at.
  • Needs to be well written as a task to ensure alignment with content and outcomes.
  • May need significant scaffolding if the format is unfamiliar.

When to use case studies or scenarios

Use case studies to assess reasoning and decision-making skills or to assess the application of knowledge and skills to a professional practice in-situ learning situation. With case studies students can see how their learning and skills can be applied in a real-world situation, without the pressure of being actually involved in that situation with constraints on research, discussion and reflection time.

Case studies and scenarios are particularly useful where situations are complex and solutions are uncertain.

You can prepare for a case study or scenario assessment by presenting examples of cases in class prior to assessment. This can provide familiarity and understanding of the relevance of cases.

Some considerations when developing a case study or scenario-based task

  • Assessment by case study or scenario can involve a verbal presentation or a written submission, or both.
  • Assessment by case study or scenario could occur in a group situation or individually.
  • Case study or scenario based questions generally require:
    • Identification of a problem
    • Generation of a hypothesis
    • Construction of an enquiry plan
    • Research or enquiry
    • Interpretation of findings
    • Investigation of results
  • There are methods that case study teaching and assessment can be based on eg the Harvard Business School method, but bear in mind that there are critiques of each method.
  • Technology can be used to track case discussions and development.

A checklist for developing case study/scenario based questions:


  • Why are you choosing a case study or scenario format?
  • What are the possible LOs it aligns with?
  • Do you want to ensure students cover a specific area of knowledge?
  • Will students develop knowledge of concepts, idea, theory or technology?


  • How authentic do you want the case study to be? Ie. how will you develop the case
  • What is the specific focus of the content?
  • Which area of subject content do you want the student to integrate knowledge from?
  • How will you indicate which content area students many need to address?


  • What questions/areas do you want learners to focus on in the case study, and how should they structure the case study to maintain this focus and cover this content in a way that is authentic to a case study/scenario? Is there a structure to enable this?
  • Will you provide a template for students to follow?
  • How will you direct analysis in terms of presentation to the audience? Is there an approach you can incorporate?

Additional resources

Using case studies to teach - Boston University

Case studies - UNSW

Case collection - National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science

What is investigative case-based learning - Science Education Resource Centre

UQ Assessment Ideas Factory - University of Queensland