Study skills: Using online quizzes

Written by: Helen Webb | Published:
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When considering effective learning strategies, Helen Webb suggests creating online, automatically marked quizzes to improve your tracking and students’ learning

In order to improve students’ revision skills, this year I have introduced to students during lessons a variety of effective learning strategies, backed by evidence from cognitive psychology research.

You can read more about this project in my previous articles for SecEd, including pieces focusing on retrieval practice and using revision guides more effectively (see below for a link to all my previous articles for SecEd).

Online quizzes

The aim of this particular aspect of the project was to create online automatically marked quizzes using Google forms that would not only allow me to better track students’ understanding of a particular science topic but would also improve students’ learning.

In their article – The ten benefits of testing and their applications to educational practice – Roediger et al state that “greater learning would occur in educational settings if students used self-testing as a study strategy and were quizzed more frequently in class”.

The inspiration for the online quizzes came from our English department colleagues who regularly and successfully use this style of testing to allow students to assess their understanding and competency of various spelling, punctuation and grammar concepts.

As such, my rationale for creating online quizzes was based around the following ideas.

Homework tasks

I wanted to create useful and accessible homework tasks. I have mixed feelings about homework, but as it is our school policy to set regular homework, I wanted to set something that was easily accessible (the link is shared with students via online homework tool Show My Homework) and a task that all students were likely to engage in. The quizzes are online, which generally allows students to complete them on their mobile phones or tablets as well as their home computers, which I am hoping will also improve homework submission rates.

Finally, it reduces the issues with trying to read illegible handwritten homework responses!

Specification

The strategy is also aimed at increasing students’ familiarity with the specification content.

Although our students are provided with student specification check-lists for each topic and are encouraged to buy revision guides, not all students were regularly or effectively engaging with them, so this strategy was designed to improve students’ awareness of what they needed to revise.

Each quiz I created was about 10 questions long, clearly labelled with the module title and sub-topic it referred to, and the questions covered the “knowledge” content of the specification as closely as possible.

Reduce teacher workload

The tests were purposely designed with multiple-choice questions or short answer-style questions, which are automatically marked by the Google form program. It means that different classes can easily re-use the tests once made.

There was an initial increase in workload in order to create a series of tests, but sharing the workload among colleagues did alleviate this a little.

Tracking

Another key aim was to better track students’ understanding throughout a topic. Rather than waiting until the end-of-topic assessment, I wanted to create more opportunities to track how individual students were coping with the content. While I was using a plethora of assessment for learning strategies in class to better pace the lessons and gauge the general progress of students, personally I was not good at recording this on a regular and individual basis.

On a practical note, if you set up your forms with different sections for students to record their first and last names and pre-entered class code, you can filter responses by class and use this as a further detailed mark book.

Individualised feedback

Roediger et al explain that “quizzing also enables better metacognitive monitoring for both students and teachers because it provides feedback as to how well learning is progressing” – i.e. giving teachers the opportunity to focus on specific and individualised feedback.

Once students have completed your quiz, Google forms provide you with an overview of students’ responses for each question. You can see statistics on which questions students found most challenging, and also individual responses to questions.

Common errors and misconceptions made by students can inform your future teaching of a topic and can also be addressed in class during feedback and DIRT (dedicated improvement and reflection time) activities.

Students can evidence their own progress by printing and filing their marked quizzes, which they can further annotate in class during DIRT.

Understanding of topics

The quizzes are also obviously aimed at improving students’ understanding of a topic.

Although there are a variety of settings you can choose from, I set my quizzes to provide students with instant feedback of correct and incorrect responses via email. I do not, however, provide students with the corrections to their wrong answers in this reply.

I then set my quizzes up so that students can repeat the tests as many times as they wish. I encourage all students to be aiming for at least 80 per cent correct answers, but advise those students who are aiming for the top grades to repeat the tests until they achieve 100 per cent. The additional functionality provided by the free add-on Flubaroo (www.flubaroo.com) allows you to see how many times a student has attempted the test along with a detailed grade book analysis of student responses.

Further study

Another aim is to encourage and focus students’ further study. Roediger et al explain that “if students are quizzed frequently, they tend to study more and with more regularity”.

They add: “Quizzes also permit students to discover gaps in their knowledge and focus study efforts on difficult material.

Furthermore, when students study after taking a test, they learn more from the study episode than if they had not taken the test.”

As I chose not to provide the corrections to any wrong student responses in the automatic feedback, this encouraged students to restudy prior to retesting.

Retrieval practice

I also want to improve learning using retrieval practice strategies – retrieval practice is simply the act of bringing information to mind from memory. Roediger et al explain that “retrieval practice occurring during tests can greatly enhance retention of the retrieved information (relative to no testing or even to restudying)”.

They continue: “Furthermore, besides its durability, such repeated retrieval produces knowledge that can be retrieved flexibly and transferred to other situations.”

To highlight this to students I added in the following information at the top of each quiz: “Completing quizzes is an example retrieval practice, a strategy that has been proven to help you learn your work more effectively. Put away your books and complete the quiz from memory first. If you get any questions wrong, read through the relevant pages in your revision guide, then close your book and do the quiz again.”

Questioning skills

The quizzes also help me to improve my own questioning skills. To ensure that I was writing questions to the appropriate level, I added in the following question: “Did you find this test: (a) too hard, (b) reasonably challenging, (c) too easy?”

Student questions

Using the quizzes also leads to opportunities for students to ask you a question. I added in a non-assessed response question: “Do you have any comments for me or is there a question that you would like to ask me that would help you understand this topic better?”

Depending on the response, queries can be addressed via email (forms can be set up so that students have to submit their email address) or specific feedback can be given verbally in class.

  • Helen Webb is an experienced science and biology teacher and lead practitioner with a professional interest in developing CPD for teachers. Her CPD packages are available on TES. Helen works at Lutterworth College in Leicestershire. Visit https://helenfwebb.wordpress.com or follow @helenfwebb. To read Helen’s previous articles for SecEd, visit http://bit.ly/2cLa6UZ

Reference

Ten benefits of testing and their applications to educational practice, Roediger, Putnam & Smith (2011) in Psychology of Learning and Motivation: Cognition in education, edited by Mestre & Ross, Oxford: Elsevier: http://bit.ly/2GqeTFi


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