Using quizzes to evaluate student learning

The following article covers the design and use of quizzes for formative and summative assessment.

Why use quizzes to assess learning?

Quizzes are widely used in higher education still, the use of quizzes to assess student learning is often contested. A common concern is that quizzes, especially the ones based on multiple-choice questions, only assess knowledge acquisition and memory rather than higher-order cognitive skills (Refer to Bloom’s Taxonomy). However, quizzes, including the ones made up of multiple-choice questions, can in fact assess higher-order thinking skills, if well-designed and well-written.

How can quizzes be used?  

A well-written quiz can be both a meaningful and engaging way of developing a formative or summative assessment task that provides valuable insight into student learning. Quizzes are good for increasing students’ confidence (Samarawickrema & Cleary, 2021), encouraging engagement and supporting feedback. If a quiz is implemented early in the term, it can also help indicate any challenging content to the unit assessor. Another benefit of using quizzes to evaluate student learning is that the grading and feedback process is automated which benefits both students and markers. 

Formative vs. Summative: What's the difference?

Formative quizzes can evaluate student learning throughout a unit. In that way, these provide valuable insight to the unit assessor as well as feedback to the students about progress towards learning outcomes. These are ungraded quizzes. Summative quizzes evaluate how much someone has learned throughout a unit. These contribute to the final grade for a unit.


Quizzes are good for formative assessment because they: 

  • Provide the students with immediate feedback, without overloading the marker/facilitator 
  • Provide the facilitator with insight into student learning and the opportunity to go over challenging content a second time to promote deeper learning experiences. 
  • Gives the option to allow students to improve by retaking the quiz and implementing feedback. 
  • Allow opportunities for both self-directed and team-based learning by letting students complete the quiz individually and/or in groups.

Team based learning (RATs)

A popular approach to the use of quizzes as a formative assessment tool is the Readiness Assurance Process which involves individual and group testing (iRATs and gRATs) that encourages students to develop active learning skills and consolidate their learning with others. RATs testing has been shown to improve grades, increase student attendance, and encourage the development of active study habits (Heinicke, Zuckerman & Cravalho, 2017). The Readiness Assurance process involves;

  • A Preparation activity where students are expected to engage in reading, watching, or interacting with assigned materials BEFORE class. 
  • An Individual Readiness Assurance Test (iRAT) is a short (5-10 question – 5 minute) quiz taken by an individual student, usually at the START of class.
  • A Group Readiness Assurance Test (gRAT) is a short (5-10 question – 5 minute) quiz taken by assigned groups of students AFTER students have completed the iRAT quiz.
  • A Summary that involves class discussion and an explanation of the answers (the teaching team may address student misconceptions again at a later date).

You can read more about this process in The Essential Elements of Team-Based Learning.


Quizzes
are good for summative assessment because they: 

  • Reduce marking without compromising students’ learning 
  • Provide the students with constructive feedback automatically 
  • Provide a low-stake opportunity for students to assess any challenges before the final summative assessment 
  • Allow students to apply the skills and knowledge they have acquired from the self-access content

Low-stakes testing

Online quizzes are commonly used for low stakes summative assessment early in the term (typically at the end of week 2). Using a quiz early provides feedback to the marker and students about how they are progressing towards the unit learning outcomes. Blackboard tests are commonly used at Southern Cross University for online quiz assessments as these can be automatically graded and provide immediate feedback to students. 

Under Southern Cross University Assessment policy, online quizzes can comprise up to 30% of the weighting of a grade. 


Designing a meaningful quiz

For a quiz to be meaningful it is important to explain the value of the quiz to students. This is particularly important to motivate adult learners (Youde, 2018).

You can ensure students understand the value of quizzes by;

  • Providing clear instructions
  • Signposting how the quiz links to learning outcomes and the unit content (e.g. provides an opportunity for revision and consolidation or the application of ideas to new contexts)
  • Explain the relationship of the quiz to other assessment tasks
  • Writing clear questions (avoid the overuse of binary questions (true/false), questions with obvious distractors or confusing language such as double negatives)
  • Address the different cognitive levels of critical thinking, knowledge and understanding.

Types of Quizzes

The most commonly used quiz type is a multiple-choice quiz comprised of questions and four answer options (A, B, C and D). However, there is a broad range of potential question types that can be included in quizzes used to evaluate student learning. These include fill in the blanks, drag and drop, matching, true/false, short answer etc.

Technology tools for Quizzes

There are a variety of different technology tools that can be used to create quizzes.  The supported technology tools available for creating quizzes are Blackboard Tests, Zoom Quizzes and Polls, Collaborate Polls and H5P Quizzes. Whilst other tools may be available, you will need to manage these on your own. Before you attempt to use the tool in your unit, ensure that you are familiar with the process of using that tool, and have a backup plan in case things don't work out. See the table below for a more detailed overview of the supported technology tools for quizzes:

Technology ToolMost useful for...FeaturesSupport Resource
Blackboard TestSummative assessment automatically graded
  • captures results in Blackboard grade centre
  • question pools and randomised answers discourage cheating
  • many options for time/date/duration of quiz
  • time-consuming to setup
Using Blackboard tests (quizzes) for summative assessment
H5P QuizAsynchronous formative assessment with immediate feedback (e.g. iRATs)
  • work on mobile devices
  • many feedback options and question types
  • fast, easy to make and share
  • can be embedded in a unit site or shared as weblink
  • reports provide detailed results
Create and edit H5Ps
Zoom QuizFormative assessment in an online class (e.g. iRATS)
  • can be prepared ahead of time
  • many varied question types
  • feedback provided to students
How to Host a Zoom Quiz
Collaborate PollFormative assessment in an online class (e.g. iRATS)
  • only provide Multiple Choice or Yes/No questions
  • questions are ungraded with no automatic feedback
  • can't be prepared ahead of the class
  • can download reports
Blackboard Help: Polls

 

Writing quizzes with technology tools

When designing a quiz using a technology tool (such as a Blackboard or H5P test), it is a good idea to write and organize questions in a Word document first. Doing this eliminates the risk of losing progress due to internet disconnection. It also enables you to easily rewrite and/or reorganize your questions. In this way, you will quickly be able to distinguish any overcomplicated or repetitive questions. It will also give you an overview of different question types and will make it easier to discern whether you need to substitute/rewrite some of your questions to encourage different cognitive processes.  

Designing quizzes to suit the Southern Cross Model 

Below are some considerations that are useful when designing a quiz within the Southern Cross Model.

A common critique of quizzes is that they target lower-level thinking skills. Authentic quiz questions should strive to assess critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are directly linked to the learning outcomes and relevant to the profession. It can be helpful to include a context/problem based on a case from the relevant field of work as an introduction to the question. 

A well designed, authentic quiz question requires students to: 

  • make decisions about the information or skills that are most pertinent or useful in a given situation (Villarroel et al., 2018), 
  • solve problems or dilemmas or analyze situations or cases that emulate the complexity and ambiguity of professional life (Sotiriadou et al., 2019) 

A key aspect of authentic assessment is the use of evaluative judgement (Ashford-Rowe et al., 2014; Bosco & Ferns, 2014; Villaroel et al., 2018). This means developing "the ability to evaluatively judge their own work and that of others” (Villarroel et al., 2018).  

Quizzes are particularly good for developing evaluative judgement as they: 

  1. Use clear assessment criteria and are highly objective (QLT Assessment Leaders, n.d.) 
  1. Provide opportunities for self and peer review (Villarroel et al. 2018) 

For more information on this see the article on Write quiz questions that assess student understanding and critical thinking. 

A manageable quiz includes only questions that are relevant and meaningful to the unit learning outcomes. You can ensure a quiz is manageable by checking:

  • Avoid questions that an unrelated to demonstrating learning outcomes (e.g. trivia questions such as: who were the authors of a paper? what year did this happen?)
  • 10-20 questions are generally a suitable number of questions for any quiz (however this may depend on the unit).
  • Avoid overcomplicating questions, answers and distractors (particularly critical with international students).
  • Don't use double negatives as these can confuse both students and markers, and add an unnecessary layer of complexity.
  • Be sensitive to diversity issues and avoid the use of cultural terms, lingo or abbreviations (except where linked to demonstrating learning outcomes).

Quizzes in the Southern Cross Model need to be scaffolded to build upon prior learning and to prepare for future learning activities and assessments.  The quiz must be relevant and directly linked to other learning activities covered in the self-access materials and class. Consider;

  • Have students covered this material? (check that a topic will be covered before the quiz)
  • How can students prepare before the quiz? (e.g. revision sheet, practice quiz)
  • How can this quiz assist students to complete the next assessment?
  • What quiz feedback could help address a student's misconceptions?

For a quiz, meeting the academic integrity policy means writing valid, reliable and accurate quiz questions that are deployed using rigorous tools and processes (e.g. appropriate technology) that can detect, deter and compile evidence of academic integrity breaches. A quiz can support academic integrity by;

  • Including questions that require short-response answers where possible (these will require manual marking).
  • Reducing the temptation for students to cheat by randomizing the question and answer order, selecting questions from question pools, or changing the quiz questions when reusing the quiz with other cohorts.
  • Not giving away the answer in the question, or writing a question that helps to answer another question in the quiz.

See the Southern Cross University Academic Quality, Standards, and Integrity policy for more information:  Principle 7: Academic integrity is rigorously assured and proactively defended in all aspects of teaching and scholarship

More resources on quizzes

The following articles provide more information on how to write effective quizzes.

References

Ashford-Rowe, K., Herrington, J., & Brown, C. (2014). Establishing the critical elements that determine authentic assessment. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 39(2), 205–222. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2013.819566 

Heinicke, M. R., Zuckerman, C. K., & Cravalho, D. A. (2017). An evaluation of readiness assessment tests in a college classroom: Exam performance, attendance, and participation. Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice, 17(2), 129-141. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/bar0000073

Samarawickrema, G., & Cleary, K. (2021). Block mode study: Opportunities and challenges for a new generation of learners in an Australian university. Student Success, 12(1), 13–23. https://doi.org/10.5204/ssj.1579 

Villarroel, V., Bloxham, S., Bruna, D., Bruna, C., & Herrera-Seda, C. (2018). Authentic assessment: Creating a blueprint for course design. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(5), 840–854. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2017.1412396 

QLT Assessment Leaders (n.d).