Two Strategies for Getting Students to Do the Reading

Getting students to come to class prepared continues to be a challenge for teachers. Regular readers know that we are always on the lookout for relevant ideas and information, and the article referenced below contains some.

Many faculty use regular quizzing as a way to keep students up with reading and arriving in class prepared. But is this an effective strategy? That question gets answered when quizzing is compared with other strategies, as it was in this research. Quizzing was compared with an approach the authors called Readiness Assessment Tests (RATs, quite an acronym). These tests, done on paper at the beginning of the period or online before class, employ open-ended questions. In this case, students answered two or three of them. The questions were purposefully broad “to prevent students from skimming though the readings in search of answers to detailed questions.” (p. 182) Answers to these questions were graded, with each answer earning up to four points.

In this study, conducted in an upper-division psychology course, students completed the RAT assignment in two of four course content units and they did quizzes in the other two. The quizzes, like the RATs, were administered online. They consisted of 10 multiple-choice questions and had to be completed Friday before midnight. The quizzes were also graded, an amount equivalent to the RAT assignment.

The faculty researchers compared the effectiveness of these two approaches by using several different measures. They found that students rated the RATs significantly higher than the quizzes in terms of enhancing their ability to participate in class. But the RATs and quizzes were equally effective at encouraging students to read assigned materials thoroughly and helping them prepare for exams. However, with the RAT, the percentage of readings completed was statistically significantly higher. Also, exam scores for those units during which students completed RATs were higher; in the case of the first and second exams, those differences were statistically significant.

Student surveys indicated that 56 percent of the students preferred the RATs, compared with 33 percent who preferred the quizzes. “Students who preferred RATs indicated in their open-ended responses that the questions helped them look at the overall meaning of the articles and focus on the main points. In addition, having the RATs due before class helped them prepare to participate in classroom discussions. Students who preferred frequent quizzes reported that their preference was due to quiz questions showing them what to expect from exams and having only one correct answer.” (p. 182)

The authors make the following recommendations based on their findings: “If an instructor’s objective is for students to do the readings prior to class and be prepared to participate fully in class discussions, she should consider using RATs to provide some external motivation. However, if an instructor’s objective is for students to learn the material in any way possible, and/or there isn’t time enough to score student responses every class period, he might consider weekly quizzes as an alternative.” (p. 185)

Conclusions like these are consistent with other findings. Few (if any) instructional strategies are universally effective, and few (if any) accomplish all learning objectives equally well.

Reference: Weinstein, S. E. and Wu, S. (2009). Readiness assessment tests versus frequent quizzes: Student preferences. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 21 (2), 181-186. [this is an online journal:]

Reprinted from A Comparison of Two Strategies for Getting Students to Do the Reading. The Teaching Professor, 25.1 (2011): 4.