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Pop quiz! Are surprise quizzes fair during COVID-19?

Pop quizzes may be a stereotype of high school TV shows, but many educators love using them as a tool to identify which students understand the subject matter and where others may be falling behind.

Despite their utility, some educators worry that the pop quiz is too stress-inducing to be helpful. In addition to worrying even the best-performing students, they can be highly disadvantageous to students with learning challenges or disabilities. Their efficacy gets even more complicated, with many students now doing all their testing online due to COVID-19.

This article examines whether students’ knowledge and understanding and their exam grades can be positively or negatively affected by pop quizzes. We’ll then demonstrate how to implement them successfully if you choose to use this type of evaluation in your classroom.

The efficacy of pop quizzes

Several studies have sought to examine how effective pop quizzes are in both a secondary and post-secondary learning environment. One study of University of Saskatchewan undergrads found that anonymous pop quizzes, administered as a multiple-choice test, effectively identified problem areas that required additional study. They also helped boost class attendance.

However, another study of undergraduate medical students found that students given pop quizzes performed poorly on exams, especially when quizzed frequently.

Disability advocates also stress the importance of accommodation for students with learning challenges, which is hard to do when administering pop quizzes in a classroom setting.

Students who need accommodation are either forced to make their classmates wait for them to complete the quiz or need to leave the classroom to take the quiz elsewhere. Both experiences expose the student to undue attention and stress due to their need for accommodation.

Are these quizzes the best online learning tool?

Now that many students and teachers are doing remote exams and assignments due to COVID-19, it may be time to rethink how we approach pop quizzes.

Instead of doing traditional pop quizzes, educators can take those principles and apply them to other forms of assessment. For example, teachers can:

  1. Provide a list of pop quizzes on their online learning platform, and give instructions to students to complete one every week on their own time.
  2. Use the types of questions they would ask on a pop quiz to spark a group conversation following the lesson.
  3. Ask students to make up their questions based on the material they just learned and trade them with a partner.
  4. Schedule one-on-one discussions with students, and ask them questions about the lesson in person.
  5. Administer an open-book exam instead, giving students the chance to demonstrate their knowledge without putting them under pressure.

Rethinking pop quizzes during remote learning

With so much changing during remote learning, it makes sense that the format of pop quizzes might by necessity be set for a change as well. Remote education provides an excellent opportunity to examine how and why we assess students’ learning and employ some of the assessment methods we mentioned above.

If a pop quiz is a critical piece of an instructor’s teaching strategy, it may be worth considering a quiz that counts only for learning or as a participation grade and not towards the student’s final grade. This way, the quiz serves its original purpose – to reveal gaps in understanding—without penalizing students.

Find more remote education resources at Crowdmark

Remote learning has been hard enough on both teachers and students. We’ve been working hard to support educators through our easy-to-use grading platform and educational resources.

To find out more about how Crowdmark can work for you and learn the platform’s basics, including how to grade a test or assignment like a pop quiz, get in touch with us to start a free trial today.