QuizFizz: 20 Ways to Make Low-Stakes Assessments Delightful (And Useful)

In 1998 and again in 2006, I tried to give students low-stakes quizzes every time class met, but was unsuccessful. The level of stress these assessments brought about in students negatively impacted the remaining class time; fear and stress impair executive brain functioning. Also, scoring these quizzes was monotonous and swallowed my home-time like a black hole. 

But, ten years later, I’ve reintroduced daily quizzes in a way that is more efficient, lowers stress, benefits learning, and brings joy to the class. That’s right, joy!

Frequent Low-Stakes Quizzes Improve Academic Achievement

Before talking about my new quizzing model, I should mention that cognitive science research tells us that giving students frequent low-stakes (FLS) quizzes enhances learning. Such quizzes…

  • Lower learners’ stress because students don’t have to worry if they mess a test or two. (Source: Faculty Focus)
  • Build confidence because students have “many opportunities to succeed” and receive regular feedback about how well they are doing. (Source: The Brilliant Blog)
  • “…[R]einforces learning more effectively than simply reviewing it.” (Source: Cult of Pedagogy)

Two more benefits I’ve noticed of giving regular quizzes: 1) students learn what topics I will prioritize on the midterm and final exams, and 2) learners are better prepared to discuss the assigned reading. All these benefits have led me to make quiz snacks a regular part of every class menu.

My Favorite Formative Assessment Tool

There are many formative assessment technologies: GoSoapBox, Google Forms, Zaption...But I use Socrative every class because it is easy for students to access with their smartphones, tablets, and computers, gives me real time feedback, and I can project the classes' answers without revealing names.  During the exam,  I watch the answers populate an online spreadsheet in real time.

Socrative's Online Dashboard

Thus I can immediately reteach concepts after seeing where some learners have struggled. Because Socrative allows me to email myself the scores as an Excel file, I don’t eat up time scoring these quizzes by hand.

Socrative allows you to email yourself the class scores as a spreadsheet.

​For these reasons, Socrative has all the bells and whistles that I need--and it's free. 

Getting to Know Todd’s Quiz 2.0

To make my quizzes useful for checking understanding, reviewing recent and old topics, and also entertaining for students, I ask a mix of questions that fall into four categories.

Types of quiz questions I use: Homework Questions, Questions Over Previous Topics, Whimsical Questions, and Social-Emotional Learning Questions.
  • 40% are questions related to previous class topics – to review and rewire the brain for better remember.
  • 40% related to homework that is due for that class.
    • 10% are social-emotional learning (SEL) questions:
      • Example #1: Which one of your classmates would be the best to lead us through a zombie apocalypse. And why?
      • Example #2: Are there any social situations you have been in when you wished you were a different gender?
      • Example #3: Shout out to a fellow student: "Thanks to ______ for ______.
    • 10% are whimsical. The whimsical category of questions has one big academic payoff: increasing students’ motivation to take the quiz. If my class doesn’t laugh when they take the quiz and when they see everyone’s answers, I’ve failed. Laughter reduces fear and builds community. If students don’t feel joy in my class at least twice, I’ve failed.
      • Example #1: The best sandwich is _____ . Choose two from the list of 27 types (“pimento cheese” won).
      • Example #2: Would you rather…
        • a. be gorgeous and not very bright.
        • b. be a genius and homely.
        • c. be the most talented singer who ever lived, but never got gigs outside of local bars.
        • d. make millions of dollars off your music, without actually being able to sing on key.

    20 Quiz-Taking Hacks to Build Engagement and Lower Anxiety

    Whether they are low or high stakes, there are other ways to make quizzes less scary. 

    1. Grade and Defend – When students finish a paper exam, let them take their papers to a table that contains green pencils and an answer keys. Let them use the green pencil to elaborate on whey they think an “incorrect” answer could be perceived as correct. If their justification makes sense, count that answer as correct. Another version of this is to allow students, while taking the quiz, to simply defend any of their multiple choice answers that they think could be perceived as wrong.

    2. Explain It to A Second Grader – Ask students to explain a complex concept using simple language that is easy enough for a second grader to understand. Have them make an analogy to help clarify the subject.

    3. What Do You Think, T.S. Elliot? Ask students to answer the question in the role of a) the author, b) a world authority on the subject, c) a character in the text, d) someone who would have a useful perspective on the topic.

    4. Let Students Chew Gum! - Studies have shown that people who chew gum while studying AND while taking a test perform better than those who didn’t chew gum at all or only briefly chewed gum before the test. The reason: chewing gum increases blood flow to the brain. Also, the smell and chewing stimulates memory recall.

    5. Buddy Quizzes – Have students take a quiz independently, then take 10 minutes to meet with a small group to discuss the answers.

    6. Never Use the Word "Test" or "Quiz" – Tell the students that on Monday, you'll have "a celebration of learning experience." Put up streamers. Project "Celebration of Learning" when students enter the class. I heard of an engineering teacher who used this approach in college. Scores improved. Anxiety lessened.

    7. Drop Your Worst – Taking exams frequently means that some students will occasionally have a bad day. Letting students know they can drop their lowest scores will decrease their nervousness.

    8. Russian Roulette – Give five quizzes a week. At the end of the week, have a student draw the days of the week out of a hat. Whatever day is picked, that’s the only quiz that you’ll grade. A student will inevitably ask, "Why don't you grade all of them?" Just tell them that they need quizzes to practice recall; you don't need to practice grading

    9. Visuals – Why should your test look like a Soviet era document? If you use paper for assessment, draw a maze or flower to color in at the end of the test.

    10. A or B? – Provide three short-answer prompts. Have students choose which two they’ll answer. Offering choices makes students feel like they have some control.

    11. Project a Relaxing Nature Scene – When students walk into class on a quiz day, they may be keyed up. But if they see and hear a nature Youtube video, they’ll feel more relaxed. Nature Sounds Oahu is my favorite high quality ambient ocean wave video (one hour). Or play this 2 hour HD Fireplace, created by Joe Poltor. Or show this snowy country road.

    12. Student-Crafted Questions – A day or two before the test, have students invent quiz questions. Tell them if you use an item one of them invented that person will receive bonus credit.

    13. Cheat Card – Tell students they can bring to class an index card (but only one) with any information on it that they think will help with the test.

    14. Mix Genres – Have students answer using a nontraditional testing genre. They could describe a character using a bio poem, for example.

    15. Question Stem Choice – Let quiz takers create and answer their own prompt using a higher order question stem.

    16. Who Cares? – For one of the questions, ask students to identify something about the subject that they think will be relevant to them in five years.

    17. Rate the Test – Ask a question at the end of the test designed to give you feedback on your evaluation tool. This demonstrates that you care about fairness. 

    1. Were there any questions that were unfair or confusing?
    2. What was the hardest question and why?
    3. Is there a question that should have been on the test—one you studied for? Explain.
    4. Rate the quality of this test between 0-10. Explain.

    18. Email a Buddy – Have students answer a question as if they were emailing a friend—using a casual register. Have them send the message to your email address.

    19. I’m So Confused – Give an opinion on the topic that is full of misunderstandings. Have students identify where you went wrong, offering corrections.

    20. Effort Meter - Have students record how much effort they gave to preparing for the exam: 1-10. Ask how they might study differently--more effectively--next time. 

    As I mentioned before, research suggests that FLS quizzes are an effective instructional arrow in our quiver of pedagogical innovations. For a tool this useful, we need to lower testing anxiety, enhance the classroom community, all the while thinking of ways to benefit student understanding.

    Weekly Neuroscience-Based Teaching Strategies

    Todd Finley

    Edutopia Blogger and Asst. Editor || ECU Ed Professor || Founder of Todd's Brain at www.todd-finley.com || Books: Dinkytown Braves and Rethinking Classroom Design.

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