Improving Classroom Quizzes

The classroom quiz. A staple of most classrooms; usually building to a larger, more summative assessment or test. For years, I followed this norm and provided quizzes worth 100 points in the gradebook for my students during a unit of study. But, with the advent of learning management systems (LMS), I’ve developed a few simple modifications that provide what I believe to be a better way to quiz. Now, I am under no impression that I was the first or that I am the only teacher quizzing this way. And while this improved upon quizzing is important, the conversation with students about why I quiz this way is just as important for their understanding of learning.

So, here are a couple of the more unique aspects of quizzing in my classroom:

  1. Using the LMS provided by the school system, I post all quizzes for the entire unit on day one of that unit and I leave quizzes open for the entirety of the unit. So, if we’re covering a unit for nine class meetings, the quizzes will be open for all nine class meetings. For instance, the last unit covered in my AP Psychology classroom had four quizzes. All four quizzes were posted on day one, even though, as a class, the material for some of those quizzes wouldn’t be covered for several days.
  2. I allow students an unlimited amount of opportunities to complete the quizzes, with the highest grade earned being recorded by the LMS for the gradebook. 

Let me tell you why I make these somewhat simple changes (thank you, LMS) and how students should maximize their learning within the confines of this system of sorts. 

  1. It provides a low stakes path to the material with pretesting,which can lead to better retention of material. Want to see how much of the information covered you already know? Go ahead and attempt the quizzes early; before we even cover the topic together in class. And it’s low stakes for the students because, if they don’t do well, they can just attempt the quiz again after the information is covered in class. 
  2. On that note, it allows students to see growth with their efforts. If they earn a 40% on their first attempt and a 90% after more studying on a second attempt, that may motivate students to put in more effort and provide some positive feedback for proper studying, which is quite difficult to impress upon students.
  3. On the other hand, it also allows students to see the impact of forgetting…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s natural. Everyone forgets. Students need to understand this and learn how to combat forgetting instead of thinking they are deficient because others may remember and they do not. Let me provide an example: say a student takes a quiz on the first lesson of the unit the night it is covered in class and they earn 100%. That is great, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will retain that information for a week or more, while learning more information building to the unit test. I highly recommend my students go back and attempt the quizzes again a day or so before the summative assessment (read test) on the unit. This is low stakes because only their highest grade is recorded for the gradebook, so once they’ve earned that 100%, it isn’t changing. It also alerts students information they knew at one point, but have forgotten over the course of a few days or a week. It certainly aids in cutting down on the assumption of learning
  4. The quizzes provide an easy-to-use study tool when preparing for the unit test. While I do provide other options for studying for the test, this is an additional method students can use to prepare for the larger assessment. Many students will use this as a jumping off point when studying because it can correctly highlight for them their areas of weakness in the unit and they can target those areas first when studying.
  5. There are also a few benefits from the teacher’s viewpoint: in the LMS, once the quizzes are created, you’ve got them forever…or until your school system finds the next best LMS and everything changes. Once created, you just repost them for the next class or the next semester. And my quizzes grade themselves, so they are a huge time saver. Also, if you find yourself  with a few minutes at the end of a lesson, it is quite easy and helpful to instruct students to attempt the quiz from the day’s lesson or from a previous lesson. 

For these reasons, I believe this change in quizzing benefits my students greatly and even makes things a little bit easier on me. Win-win. But, as I wrote earlier, just as important are the conversations that surround why and how my students should use this method of quizzing to their advantage and how they can modify this for other classes. This is a common thread throughout my semester-long classes. Thinking and talking about more efficient study and learning practices are essential for developing more cognitively mature learners. Rather than rehash the discussions in this post, I will link to several other articles I’ve written on these discussions with my students:

The Value of Failure in the Classroom

Student Choice, Intuition, and Poor Study Habits

A Discussion About Learning in the Classroom

Honesty is the Best Policy

Studying 101

I believe the posts above and those linked throughout this article provide a good account of how I discuss learning and developing as a learner in my classroom.

Now, is this method of quizzing perfect? Of course not. Students will find ways to take advantage of the generous circumstances and procrastinate. But I still believe, when used properly, this method of quizzing provides a more accurate assessment of learning for students and teachers, which can better instruct and steer future lessons and studying. 

What do you think of my quizzing? See anymore positives and/or negatives I’m missing?

Feature Image by Matt Wildbore on Unsplash

4 thoughts on “Improving Classroom Quizzes

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  1. I am really intrigued by this idea. I’m wondering what style of questions you use in the quizzes? How might this work in a course like AP Physics? I can see it working for the conceptual questions, I’m more curious about how you might envision this working for solving problems that require the students to show work.

  2. As expected, another thoughtful and thought-provoking post–I’m a “traditional” quizzer, but I really like elements of your approach. What do you think of the following tweak: Open all the quizzes at the beginning of the term, but their grade for a quiz is the highest grade at the end of the day you finish teaching that material. This allows them to start early but prevents procrastinating until right before the test. And they can still retake quizzes right up to the exam to self-assess / review. Canvas doesn’t exactly support this, but you could have two identical sets of quizzes. One that closes when you finish teaching the material, and a matching quiz that opens at the same time but doesn’t contribute to their grade.

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