Image by Darwin Laganzon from Pixabay.

If you feel that more traditional testing is the best way to assess your students’ learning, an online quiz or exam is an option.

Note: A timed online exam is often complex and time consuming for an instructor to prepare the first time. However once done, it will save time in the future. Questions generated for the first online exam can become part of a test bank of questions.

Consider the following impacts on students. An online exam will require your students to have access to a reliable computer and internet connection. If your students have never taken an online exam before, it can also add a lot of stress and anxiety to your students’ exam experience. This is already a stressful time, so try to keep things simple for yourself and your students.

You may be able to access quizzes through publisher sites for textbooks you have adopted for the course. If so, you can look into the options there and what would be required for students to have access and for you to be able to record grades.

Note: Many publishers cannot guarantee data will be backed up and accessible for 6 months in case of appeal so it is best not to have more than 25% of the grade rely on such testing. You can also consider using it as non-graded self-assessment/study to enhance learning.

Using a series of cumulative quizzes or chapter tests instead of comprehensive, high-stakes midterm or final exams is highly encouraged. Four times a semester is good; weekly or semi-weekly is ideal. These periodic tests can be made cumulative, in that the most important content can be brought forward from test to test as the semester unfolds to ensure that it is not forgotten after it is first tested. This has the added bonus of emphasizing the most important content, and requiring students to integrate new information with the earlier-taught, fundamental concepts. Also, by having to study for quizzes on a regular basis, students learn better time-management skills than those encouraged by “all-nighters” at midterm or final exam cram time. If they are kept short, it can also make regular feedback easier to provide and keep students aware of their evolving grade in the course. This can encourage students to seek academic assistance and ultimately assist with the appeal process, should that happen.

High stakes midterms and final exams bring a number of harmful effects into your classroom:

  1. High stakes final exams frequently fail both the reliability and the validity tests; that is, good students often fail, and poor students often pass, due to factors other than their knowledge and understanding of the content. As academics, we cannot overlook this failure.

  2. In preparing for high stakes final exams, “students come to regard them not as a means in education but as the final purpose, the ultimate goal.” (New York State Department of Education, in Nichols, S. L., & Berliner, D. C. (2007). Collateral damage: How high-stakes testing corrupts America's schools. Harvard Education Press.)

  3. High stakes final exams sacrifice systematic, integrated instruction for the dispensation of scrappy, piecemeal, easily-tested factual knowledge to students. Students then must memorize, (rather than actually study in ways that develop higher cognition) to answer the kinds of questions that are readily composed for a multiple choice exam. This superficial knowledge only ever makes it into short-term memory, and is soon forgotten.

  4. High stakes final exams completely abdicate the Instructor’s fundamental responsibility for formative assessment - that is, keeping an eye on how students are doing throughout the semester, and providing re-teaching or remediation in response.

The above-mentioned, well-established critiques of high stakes final exams illustrate Campbell’s Law, which states:

"The more any quantitative social indicator [such as high stakes final exams] is used for social decision-making [the ranking of students’ by exam ‘achievement’]quiz , the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor." (Rothstein, Jesse (2011-01-13). "Review of Learning About Teaching". National Education Policy Center.)

Quiz & Exam Tips

  • Tie each quiz question to a course goal. After all, you want to know whether your students are achieving the goals of the course, so why not ask them directly?
  • Try to ask multiple questions about each important idea in the class. This gives you more data points about student understanding.
  • When writing a multiple-choice question, be sure each wrong answer represents a common mis-conception. This will help you diagnose student thinking and eliminate easy guessing.
  • Write questions requiring your students to think at different levels. Include some recall questions, some comprehension questions and some application and analysis questions. You can determine where students are having problems in their thinking. Can they recall the material, but not apply it?
  • Compose your questions with literacy in mind; will the wording trip up EAL students who are unfamiliar with contemporary North American idioms? Do the words in your question trick or mislead your students in any way?

(Adapted from: Effective quiz practices - MoodleDocs)

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Here are resources for using the UR Courses quiz tool. This will help you build a basic quiz.:

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