As a student, I rarely enjoyed taking quizzes. Either I did poorly because I didn’t understand the information being quizzed (often math), or did well because the quiz was so easy as to be worthless for me (usually in English class), or earned an average score and didn’t retain any of that information.
As a teacher, I’ve been moving more and more towards an anti-quiz philosophy. When I first started teaching college courses, I had occasional reading quizzes, especially in a class on art appreciation that was not meant to be writing-intensive. But as I’ve moved towards teaching courses that are writing-intensive, I have trouble justifying quizzes. I can’t identify a translatable skill, in writing, reading or life itself, that maps well to quizzes. Here are some candid reasons I’ve heard for the usefulness of quizzes (from a wide variety of teachers in-person and online):
* students don’t read if they’re not quizzed on the basics of the reading
* students who don’t read pay the price when they do poorly on quizzes
* students who are reading get rewarded by doing well on quizzes
* quizzes can lessen the impact of major assessments that have gone awry
So basically, we teachers often use quizzes as both the carrot and the stick, or as cushions when we need to inflate grades for one reason or another. Shouldn’t we be designing assessments that require reading the text? Is it our job to lessen the impact of tests that a class bombs, if they well and truly earned that bomb? What about short writing tasks, class participation, journal entries or other exercises that also reward the student who is reading and offer a reality check for the student that isn’t, while also building skills like writing?
Another more pedagogic reason:
* quizzes can be a good way to assess student knowledge of discrete pieces of information, most often vocabulary or grammar, or dates and facts for other disciplines
* quizzes are easy to grade, which especially for an English teacher, can lighten the heavy load of essay grading we all bemoan from time to time
Right now, the only quizzes I give as a teacher are part of an ongoing year-long grammar curriculum that I helped design. The students spend a full period about every other week studying a different unit of grammar (sentence fragments, verb tenses, pronouns, etc), and at the beginning of each grammar day, they take a quiz on the preceding lesson’s material. The questions are most often sentence-correction style, in keeping with the curriculum’s focus on grammar-in-writing. So far, while the students seem to be working well in the lessons and practice exercises, their quiz grades are often not good, and it’s made me wonder. I watch them sit with their books, trying to cram for the quiz, desperately reviewing material they should already know, and I think maybe it’s the quiz’s fault. Would they be this panicky if it wasn’t called a quiz, or would they take it less seriously and dismiss it? Would they be better able to show off their acquired skills if the assessment was somehow writing based? What would that assessment look like? How would it be graded?
I’m interested in your thoughts on quizzes, either as students, teachers, or parents. Am I overreacting? Do I have an unfair bias against quizzes?