December 19th, 2013

A Quiz Design that Motivates Students


Many faculty members use quizzes to keep students prepared and present in class. The approach often tends to be punitive, however, motivating students by extrinsic means. Karen Braun and Drew Sellers, who teach beginning accounting courses, wanted to use quizzes in the usual ways—to get students coming to class having done the reading, to arrive in class on time, and to participate in class discussion, but they wanted their quizzes to be more about intrinsic motivation and less about assessment. How did they achieve that objective? They incorporated a number of “motivational” design features into their use of quizzes.

The questions asked on their quizzes are conceptual. “Since most introductory accounting students are not accounting majors, conceptual knowledge is arguably at least as important as procedural knowledge.” (p. 269) Each of the three questions on any given quiz addresses key ideas from the assigned reading. Moreover, during the quiz students are allowed to use any notes they’ve taken while doing the reading. This design feature gives students a reason to take notes on the reading rather than just quickly skimming it, and it provides students with a collection of notes from the reading that can be used as they prepare for exams.

Students pick up the daily quiz as they arrive in class. They have five minutes to complete it, and when they turn it in they retrieve their graded quiz from the previous class. After five minutes, the collection basket for the quizzes is removed and quizzes can no longer be submitted. This detail gets students to class on time. The short time frame also means test questions are answered briefly, which means they can be graded quickly, a motivational issue for teachers.

These quizzes count for 10 percent of the student’s course grade. Makeups are not allowed, but the three lowest quiz scores are dropped when course grades are calculated. Students can also “make up” one missed quiz question per day by voluntarily participating in class discussions. “This practice spurs students to engage in class discussions.” (p. 271)

It’s also another design feature that benefits the teacher: They have students eagerly volunteering to participate during class discussions.

The instructors assessed the effectiveness of this approach to quizzing by soliciting student feedback, by looking at course failure rates, and by analyzing its effect on end-of-course evaluations. Some of the feedback from students came via a survey that asked about their preparation in courses without quizzes, as compared with how they were preparing for this course. In courses without quizzes, 45 percent of the students reported that they used the text as a reference only when they needed help completing homework assignments. Fifty-two percent said they finally got around to reading the text, but not until they were preparing for the exam. Use of quizzes in this class caused 85 percent of the students to agree that they came to class more prepared than they would have had there been no quizzes; 85 percent to agree that the quizzes helped them keep up with readings; and 82 percent to say that they appreciated the discipline imposed by the daily quiz routine. Failure rates from eight sections previously taught without quizzes and from nine sections with the quizzes resulted in a small but statistically significant decrease. And the course and instructor evaluations showed no adverse effects from the use of quizzes.

There are several noteworthy aspects of this article worth mentioning. First, it illustrates the kind of careful, deliberate thinking that should go into the use of any instructional strategy. These instructors know why they are using quizzes, what they hope they will accomplish, and why those goals are important and relevant to students learning introductory accounting. Second, it’s a great illustration of how even small design features can change the nature of a learning experience. These quizzes are less punitive and more positive. They give students reasons to do the reading rather than punishing them for not doing the reading. That’s a small but significant difference. Evidence included in the article shows how effectively this quizzing mechanism achieved the instructors’ goals and garnered positive student endorsement as well.

Reference: Braun, K.W. and Sellers, R.D. (2012). Using a “daily motivational quiz” to increase student preparation, attendance, and participation. Issues in Accounting Education, 27 (1), 267-279.

Reprinted from A Quiz Design that Motivates Students, The Teaching Professor, 26.10 (2012): 5,7.

  • Old school

    It's not clear to me that administering daily quizzes for points facilitates intrinsic motivation. I'm not saying daily quizzes are not an effectivecway to encourage students to work, but the motivation seems to be extrinsic.

  • Hope

    This would be great if textbooks were affordable and something accommodated people with disabilities. Five minutes barely seems long enough to use their notes and answer questions thoughtfully.

  • MathMatters

    Although no one method is perfect, conducting regular assessment has many benefits. For this reason, a colleague and I have recently changed the assessment process for one of our courses. Although the assessment tied to grades can be an external motivator, I think that the emphasis that this author is presenting is on conceptual vs. procedural assessment. When the questions are conceptual, students will place more effort into the understanding of "why", which I agree is important. Another aspect of regular assessment that I find motivates students is the regular feedback that they receive from their instructor. This process also allows for struggling students to achieve "small successes", which motivates them to continue learning rather than giving up after a big mid-term test. For students that need more time due to accommodations, appropriate exceptions can be made.

  • David Leclair, EMSI

    I have used this technique for at least 10 years with one minor exception, I do not always give a quiz at the beginning of each class. The quiz might be given at the beginning, near the end, or in the middle of class. The quiz may be on ANY covered subject, not just the subject of that class. I have also given multiple quizzes in one class. Initially the students were not impressed with the idea, but within a few classes they were on board with the process and felt comfortable with the concept.