Frequent quizzes encourage students to keep up with what's happening in class. Quizzes motivate regular study and review. They give teachers a chance to correct students' errors and misunderstandings. If they test students on key aspects of the content, they help students identify the content they most need to learn. But frequent testing has downsides for the teachers. It requires time to prepare the questions, grade them, and manage the logistics. Online quizzing can alleviate some of these time requirements, but then there's the stress provoked by expecting to be tested every day in class. Even though many students understand the rationale behind frequent tests, tests still provoke anxiety, particularly if quiz scores count for a significant portion of the grade. If they don't count for much, then there's the risk that students won't take them seriously, which compromises the benefits of frequent testing.
Here's an approach to quizzing that reaped the benefits, required a manageable amount of teacher time, and overcame the associated stress. Faculty author Rezaei developed and tested the approach with 288 students in twelve sections of a quantitative research methods course taught over a five-year period. In all of the sections, students took a midterm exam and a comprehensive final, and they completed a final project consisting of a ten-page research proposal.
In phase 1 of the project, in the first four sections of the course, students only took both exams and completed the final project. In phase 2, conducted in three sections of the course, students took a quiz at the end of each lecture. The twenty-question quizzes counted for 30 percent of their grade. Quiz questions (used in phases 2 and 3) were drawn randomly from a quiz-question bank. They tested both factual and conceptual knowledge. The quizzes were taken online, and students were allowed to use their notes and the course textbook while taking the quizzes.
Phase 3 students (in five sections) were also quizzed—after the lecture, online, and using their books and notes. However, in this phase, students were given the choice of taking the quiz individually or with a partner. Most chose to take the quiz in pairs. They were required to work with a different partner for each quiz.
The students' performances on the final exam and final project increased significantly between phase 1 and phase 2 as well as between phases 2 and 3. “What was interesting was that frequent testing not only improved students' performances in the short term (as reflected in their progress through quizzes) but also improved their deeper and more sustainable understanding as reflected in their final examination, which addressed mostly higher-order thinking and scenario-based problem solving and in their final project” (p. 193).
End-of-course instructor evaluations indicated that having access to their notes and the text reduced the anxiety associated with quizzes. The midterm and final exam were not open book or open notes. Many instructors anticipated that access to the books and notes would reduce exam scores, but that did not prove to be case in this study. Perhaps what matters more in early understanding of course content is finding the right answers.
The collaborative component of phase 3 served to further reduce student anxiety. And, as has been regularly reported in literature on collaborative testing, when students work together on exam questions, they have engaged conversations about course content. As this author notes, “Observing students having meaningful and productive discussions about every single quiz question was very reassuring” (p. 195).
There was one other benefit that accrued from this approach, according to the author. Like most teachers, he asked students to read the chapter before coming to class for the lecture on that topic. He believed that reading beforehand would help scaffold the new concepts covered in the lecture. “It is interesting to note that initially this method was not fully successful. Many students came to class unprepared for the first few weeks. However, after a few weeks, they realized if they did not read the chapter, they would not understand the lecture and/or they would not do well on the quizzes” (p. 194). In other words, it is more persuasive and motivating to discover for students to discover on their own that reading makes a difference. The author writes of students in phase 3, “Gradually, students learned how to read the chapters, highlight the confusing parts, and ask the right questions during lecture” (p. 194). Author Rezaei didn't systematically collect data, but based on his observations both the number and quality of student questions increased in phase 2 compared with phase 1.
“If you have tried frequent testing but stopped it due to students' stress or their complaints, if you are skeptical about the effectiveness of open-book tests, or if you think students may not study for an open-book or a collaborative test, this research may help you rethink some of your assessment strategies” (p. 195).
Rezaei, A. R., (2015). Frequent collaborative quiz taking and conceptual learning. Active Learning in Higher Education, 16 (3), 187–196.