“How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Quiz” – Dr. Strangelove (paraphrased slightly)
As a new instructor, I’ve come to appreciate quizzes as one of the most powerful and versatile yet low-cost tools in my toolbox. I initially introduced weekly quizzes in my introductory classes to measure the effectiveness of my lectures. I figured that having a tight feedback loop would enable me to quickly identify problems and implement changes. I certainly realized this benefit but I also stumbled upon numerous other benefits along the way. Quizzes revolutionized my teaching and, now, are one of my most trusted tools.
From the perspective of an instructor, quizzes are quicker and easier to write and grade than full exams. At the same time, weekly quizzes add up to enough total points to motivate students but each individual quiz is not worth so much that a single bad quiz grade will significantly hamper a student’s overall grade.
Some ways to use quizzes include:
- Feedback Tool for Lecturers: As a new instructor, I’m still trying to identify best practices in the classroom or how best to present each topic. Weekly quizzes give me a rapid and regular feedback. If a majority of the class is struggling to understand a topic, this is apparent on the weekly quiz. I can then review the material and adjust my approach going forward.
- Self-Evaluation Tool for Students: First-year students are still developing self-evaluation skills. Until they have developed these skills, students often think they better understand the material than they really do. When the students take a quiz in a testing situation, the illusions fall away and the students leave with a more realistic evaluation.
- Encouraging Study Habits: Many students struggle with the transition from high school classes to college classes with fewer contact hours and a greater need for self study. When quizzes are given on a regular basis, students come to expect them and develop a study schedule around the quizzes. This leads students to develop a habit of studying on a regular basis that continues past the current class.
- Practice for Exams: When I gave my students take-home practice exams, they used the exam as a list of topics to study but not to evaluate themselves. Quizzes provide practice opportunities in realistic testing environments, so students get a better sense of their strengths and weaknesses. I found that giving my students quizzes with questions similar to what would be on the exam led to improved exam grades compared with only giving them take-home practice exams.
- Opportunity to Review Material: After each quiz, I discuss the answers with the class. This gives me an opportunity to review the material and give students a second look. Further, since the questions are fresh in the students’ minds and the students have a better sense of what they do and don’t understand, they tend to be more engaged and interactive than usual.
- Improve Office Hours Attendance: Many of my first-year students are initially uncomfortable with the idea of visiting a professor’s office. To break the ice, I offer to replace my students’ first quiz grade with a 100% if they visit my office hours in the first two weeks of the term. This has proven to be popular, with most of my students taking the offer. For many students, that first office hours visit turns into regular visits. These regular visits means that I can help students early, before problems (academic or otherwise) fester and become insurmountable.