Do Online Retrieval Practice Quizzes Help Students?

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Do practice quizzes help students learn without stress?

Teachers who are up to speed with student mental health, pedagogy and working memory, will know that when anxiety is increased, retrieval weakens …

What this looks like in the classroom is when a teacher surprises a student by asking them a question. In that two-second moment, a student forgets what information is requested, and teachers who are unfamiliar with working memory processes view that the student is unable to recall a response to their question when, in fact, there is a lot more going on beneath the scenes.

Do quizzes increase student anxiety?

A potential drawback of using practice quizzes is the potential to increase students’ anxiety (Steele, 2011).

Student Attitudes and (Lack of) Anxiety for Online Practice Quizzes In the paper Student Attitudes and (Lack of) Anxiety for Online Practice Quizzes (Hochstein, 2019), the research asks how online practice quizzes can facilitate learning without increasing student anxiety, offering practical applications for teaching.

Online practice quizzes are increasingly popular tools in classroom settings, used more and more for homework. Teachers can manage their workload more efficiently and gather data from students daily to gauge how students are making progress.

One byproduct that many schools have not yet cracked, I know, is how parents deal with all the logins to so many different platforms. It’s an easy way to disengage parents from taking an active role if they have to log into several applications.

I digress …

This research was designed to enhance students’ ability to retrieve information from long-term memory. Unlike traditional tests, these quizzes are often ungraded and are primarily used as learning tools.

Retrieval quizzes provide immediate feedback to the student and teacher, focusing on enhancing students’ mastery of the material rather than evaluating their performance under pressure.

Remember,  retrieval practice should never be associated with a grade. It is a learning strategy, not an assessment strategy. This message is easily lost.

Results and conclusion

152 college students (not primary students) completed the survey to help gather data about test anxiety and study strategies across various subjects. This occurred a few weeks before the final term, during the last 15 minutes of a random lesson. All participants completed the survey once, and no incentives were given for its completion. The research wanted to know how students self-reported anxiety associated with quizzes.

Research has shown that the active recall required in practice quizzes promotes better information retention than passive study methods like re-reading or highlighting. Furthermore, the non-graded nature of these quizzes reduces the stakes, alleviating the anxiety typically associated with testing. This combination improves learning outcomes and supports a more positive educational experience.

The research concluded students (95%) reported online practice quizzes did not increase test anxiety.

The message?

  1. Quiz your students rather than reteach them.
  2. Ensure any online software does not provide a grade, and,
  3. If multiple-choice options are provided, ensure the answers are difficult and similar to strengthen recall.

Teachers can integrate online practice quizzes into their teaching strategies by using platforms that allow the customisation of quiz content to align with curriculum objectives. Using the principles of interleaving and spaced practice, regular quizzes can provide students with continuous feedback and opportunities for self-assessment, helping them identify their strengths and areas for improvement.

Reflection questions to consider

  1. What platforms could you use to implement online quizzes in your classroom?
  2. How might these quizzes help students with SEND/EAL?
  3. Do online quizzes reduce anxiety for students who typically struggle with test-taking?
  4. What feedback would be most useful for your students after taking these quizzes?
  5. How often should you use these quizzes to maximise learning without causing fatigue?
  6. Is the online software you (already) use backed by educational research?
  7. How might you encourage reluctant students to engage with online quizzes?
  8. What modifications might be necessary to accommodate students in a variety of subjects?
  9. How can you ensure the quiz content is fair and covers all necessary material?
  10. How does the quiz software reduce anxiety and improve recall?

The research also reported that a small percentage of students said practice quizzes were confusing (14%)) although there wasn’t enough time to answer the question (13%). On the whole, 47 per cent of students said there was nothing to dislike about online quizzes …

Image: ChatGPT 4 and Ross McGill

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