Quizzes on the Go

Credit: iStock.com/skynesher
Credit: iStock.com/skynesher

Editor’s note: This article and “Knowledge Checks” by Keith Weber (coming next week) describe two innovative quiz strategies. For a couple of other unique approaches to quizzes, see “The (Mostly) Unmarked Quiz” and “The Unquiz: An Enjoyable Way to Jog Students’ Memories.”

How can you infuse your classes with lively, productive experiences that nurture awake and alert minds in your students? What sort of instructional practices prime students to be cognitively active “learners on the go”?

Let me propose “quizzes on the go,” so named because they test comprehension while class discussions are ongoing, not after the fact. In their simplest form, they consist of quizzes with five to 10 multiple choice questions that students take during a class session. As I present content, students are listening to catch the correct response for each question. This quiz strategy obligates them to pay attention and engage with the material all class period long. No dozing off here!

It took me a while to learn how to pace the session so that all quiz questions get covered before the end of the period. I have also found it prudent to pause occasionally and ask, “Now, everyone should have answers to all questions up through number ____. Everybody with me?” This reduces test anxiety, prompts those whose minds might be wandering, and lets students know that I’m concerned about their academic success.

I use quizzes on the go in several different ways. Sometimes I award extra credit if students annotate their answers, hoping this will make the quizzes as useful as class notes or study guides. I have students embellish their answers to designated quiz questions with images—pie charts, graphs, maps, stick figures, speech bubbles, emojis. Why images? We know that pictures are grasped more quickly and completely than words, visuals help students recall information better and longer than verbal communication alone, and students build stronger cognitive connections between pictorial and oral information if they’re processed synchronously. Other times, I have students work—sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs—on the quiz questions before I start lectures. Once lecturing starts, students can change their answers whenever the discussion sets their thinking straight.

This approach to quizzing benefits students in several ways. It makes them aware of the active mental processing needed to receive, understand, analyze, evaluate, and master course content. In short, students start thinking about their thinking and emerge as successful learners as a result. Naturally, most students answer the quiz questions correctly—I’ve essentially given them the answers. A long string of high scores boosts student morale. Students come to appreciate how consistently good scores on quizzes—albeit low stakes and only a small part of the final grade—can nevertheless have an ameliorating effect when added to the more heavily weighted scores of assignments and exams. Typically, I drop one or two low quiz scores to take care of those days when students have reasons to be absent.

Finally, quizzes on the go help me out. Because the answers are mostly correct, they can be graded in short order even in my big, 200-student courses. This low-effort grading affords me the opportunity to note patterns of incorrect answers and misunderstandings that I can clarify next class session. All in all, I see this quizzing strategy as a win-win for everyone.

W. Mick Charney, PhD, is an associate professor emeritus of architecture at Kansas State University, where he taught introductory architectural history courses for the past 34 years. In that time, he received a number of teaching awards, including the lifetime designation as a K-State University Distinguished Teaching Scholar.

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