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A Passion 




Getting students to prep (and a lot more): the new art of in-class quizzes

Updated: Jun 28, 2018

Your students aren’t doing the reading? They come to class unprepared, with homework missing? You are not alone! The most cited figures are that only between 20-30% of students come prepared for any given class; that is too few students for a teacher to be able to build on the prep work. So we end up explaining what was in the reading or the video. That is boring for those who did prepare and worse, the reading was a loss of time, so next time they will come unprepared. But prep is essential if we want to move beyond the lecture and start an interesting discussion or work on an application.

One method that may help is a quiz. Yes, I understand you skepticism. As a student, I too hated pop quizzes as they created a negative atmosphere even before the class started. And multiple choice questions really don’t have anything to do with what will be expected from our students in the workplace. But ed tech offers new and fun ways of quizzing our students. And quizzes have a surprising number of benefits.

With the new apps, quizzes no longer need to bring a gloomy atmosphere to the classroom, they really do turn learning into a game. Students, sometimes in teams, use their phones to answer questions and compete against each other to earn the most points or reach the goal first. And yes, my students enjoyed them so much they came to ask for more when I didn’t do them for every class! The energy levels in the class clearly rise with the quiz games.

Students do not like to get the answer wrong or come last, and a quiz at the beginning of each class will encourage them to at least look at the reading or do some prep. Moreover, research has shown that pop quizzes are correlated with exam scores (Sappington, 2002), so students will soon see the benefit.

In-class quizzes have a lot more to offer than just encouraging students to prep. Professors can quickly assess what students understand and what they are struggling with. Rather than going over all the topics again in a lecture, you can focus on the difficult questions. The discussion is focused on the students’ specific needs which motivates them to pay attention.

Quizzes have also been shown to help reinforce retention through retrieval practice. Encouraging students to get the information out helps them strengthen their long-term memory. Exams have been shown to be a great way to learn, so why wait until the end of the term, when we can reinforce learning during the whole course and thus improve learning? This is especially important when the learning is cumulative.

My quiz app recommendations:

There are a number of quiz apps available now such as Quizlet, Poll Everywhere or Google Form. However, I have found two particularly good for the classroom and easy to use: Kahoot! and Socrative. They are both free, both allow students to play without signing in, they offer team options, you can add a picture, the time allowance can be adapted and they are pretty intuitive to use from the start. Kahoot! has more of a fun feeling to it, due to its colorful layout and the music. The big downside is that you can only ask questions with 95 characters. Socrative offers a rather plain lay out, but you can ask longer questions and add a video. I would start with the multiple choice questions, but then you can try out other formats such as discussions, team games, jumbles, etc. I use both apps depending on the length of the questions or type of game.

With these new apps, quizzes lose their negative aspect, but maintain their value of reinforcing learning, assessing understanding, encouraging prep and all the while creating a fun and energy filled classroom. Do give it a try. It is free and requires little time.

Useful links:

A short (6 min) intro video to Kahoot!

A short (4 min) intro video to Socrative.

Hatteberg, Sarah J., and Kody Steffy. "Increasing Reading Compliance of Undergraduates." Teaching Sociology41, no. 4 (2013): 346-52. doi:10.1177/0092055x13490752.

"Why It Works." Retrieval Practice: A Powerful Strategy to Improve Learning. Accessed May 05, 2018.

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