The weekly random quiz

A young teacher asked me: “I am having difficulty with students who often come to class late, some do not read the assigned materials and participate in class discussion. I like the active learning method but do not know how to solve these problems. Please help.”

Answer: It takes some time to master the “Active learning” method. To get students coming to class on time, having done the reading, and participate in class discussion, I use a simple technique called “Random Weekly Quiz”. Each week, I have a short quiz consists of two questions but I do not tell the students on which day so they must attend all classes in anticipate that I may have quiz on that day. The quiz always starts at the beginning of the class and students have five minutes to complete it. Students who arrive late must wait outside and cannot come in until everybody complete the quiz. This will get students to come to class on time. If they miss the quiz, they cannot make up which means they get zero for that quiz. The short time of five minutes means the questions can be answered briefly, which also means they also can be graded quickly by the teacher to provide quick feedback to students.

The questions on the quizzes are solely based on the key ideas from reading materials so students must read them before coming to class, else they cannot complete the quiz. However, during the quiz students are allowed to use any notes they have taken while doing the reading. This rule gives students a reason to take notes on the reading rather than just quickly skimming through it. It also provides students with a set of short notes from the reading materials that they can use to prepare for the monthly exams. These random quizzes count for 20 percent of the student's course grade. Since I do not allow makeups, if they miss a quiz, they have zero but if they voluntarily participating in class discussions and have good answers, then I would give them “bonus point”. This practice encourages all students to engage in class discussions to get better points.

By having students eagerly volunteering to participate during class discussions, I can assess the effectiveness of the active learning method and determine how well students are switching from passive learning to active learning. Since the quiz is short and easy to grade, I can complete grading them quickly and provide feedback to students on the next day so students will know how well they really learn something from assigned reading materials. By reviewing students' performance I can also adjust my teaching accordingly.

Since using this simple technique, students told me that they came to class more prepared than they would have had there been no quizzes. They also told me that the random quiz forces them to read and take good notes before coming to class. These short notes are very useful for preparing them for the monthly exam. Overall most students say that they like the discipline imposed by this random weekly quiz technique.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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