Rethinking Quizzes to Encourage Reading

Many of us use quizzes in some form or another. We use them for different reasons as well, some better than others. Some of the challenges with quizzes are that they tend to be lower-level questions that reflect more memorization of information rather than actual learning (Weimer, 2016). Then there is the common use of items like true/false, which from an assessment perspective are not a good tool because they measure how well someone guesses more than they do actual learning. And I am sure more than a few of us have used quizzes to motivate students to read or complete some out-of-class assignment. Unfortunately, this approach rarely fosters deep or lasting learning.

Quizzes are, however, an excellent way to utilize formative assessment strategies. Whether or not the quiz is graded or counts toward the final course grade, they can be practical tools to provide essential feedback to the students and you about where they are in their learning. They can also offer much more. Recently, I read several articles written by professors in higher education all over the country who shared their innovative practices and successes with quizzes. The approaches ranged from quizzes designed to deepen student engagement, foster pre-class reading, promote discussion, and motivate and enhance learning. The take-away was that taking time to think about the why, when, and in what form your quizzes will be can result in increased engagement, motivation, and learning.

Although the authors of the articles I read have many great suggestions, in this article, I will focus on using quizzes to encourage students to read. In my experience, using daily or weekly quizzes to motivate students to read before coming to class is a fairly common practice. Yet, the research shows this doesn’t have the desired effect. Many of us also know from experience that even with assigned readings and the instruction to students that they must read, preferably before class, it doesn’t happen. In fact, there is a plethora of research that confirms students do not read the assigned class readings (Starcher & Proffitt, 2011). The problem this creates is that when students don’t read, they tend to face more difficulties in understanding the course material and are less likely to participate during class (Tropman, 2014). We need our students to read because we simply cannot cover all the material in class or during synchronous live lectures. Therefore, students need to read to fill in the rest of the information.

But using daily or regular quizzes to ‘force’ students to read has met with some objections. Objections include that using quizzes in this way can negatively affect a student’s motivation to learn or foster a grade-oriented motivation toward learning. Furthermore, frequent quizzes can create an undesirable classroom environment with students dreading class. In addition, such regular quizzes can increase student anxiety, especially for students who have poor reading skills (Tropman, 2014).
Despite these oppositions, is there a way to use quizzes that could encourage students to read? It seems so, at least based on Tropman’s (2014) and other’s findings (Starcher & Proffitt, 2011; Weimer, 2016). We can use some promising innovative and successful approaches to foster and encourage our students to read with good results. Part of it has to do with rethinking quizzes.

So here are some things to consider if you want to use daily or frequent quizzes to encourage students to read.

1. Start with explaining the value, importance, and rationale for the required reading you are assigning. It can be helpful to link it to their professional responsibility and obligation to keep reading once they are in practice to stay up-to-date in medicine. Sharing with students that it is an intentional decision by you to require readings and use quizzes to foster and develop this skill as part of your course can also motivate students to engage and have a positive attitude about these requirements. In fact, there is evidence to support that this kind of approach in which assessment is seen as a learning opportunity and not solely to quantify what has been learned can be beneficial (Sainsbury & Walker, 2008). This approach is best done on the first day of class and may need to be repeated from time to time. Sometimes students need to hear things more than once for them to stick.

2. Since we know that students tend to come to us without well-established reading, studying or time management skills, taking some time to offer suggestions and resources to support them to be successful can also be helpful.

3. Run some non-graded practice quizzes initially so students get a sense of what they will entail. If it is possible to provide what the key focus should be when reading, that could be helpful as well. For example, focus on the similarities and differences between clinical presentations.

4. Administer the quiz at the start of the class. Keep it short.

5. Mix up the quiz format. One quiz can be all multiple-choice questions. Another may require 2 to 3 words or sentences responses, others can have them summarize or reflect on the main points of what they read.

6. Vary the quiz experience. In addition to changing the question format, also consider changing the quiz experience, such as having students take the quiz individually or take it in pairs or groups. It could also be an “open-book” quiz, where they can use their textbook but limit the time so that they would have needed to read the material to perform well.

7. Determine the frequency of the quizzes. They don’t need to happen every class period. I would lean away from “pop” or unannounced quizzes. These tend to be significantly more anxiety-provoking.

8. A common practice is that missed quizzes cannot be made up, so be sure to build in the ability for the students to miss 1 or 2 without penalty. A common practice is to drop the one with the lowest quiz score.

9. If the quizzes count toward the final grade, you want them to carry enough weight to matter to the students but not too much weight. From my experience, 10 percent or less is an acceptable range. If you make the quizzes 10% of the grade and a student scores 100% on every quiz – 10% of 100% = 10 points. Given your other course assessments, are you comfortable with the effect these ten points can have on the final grade?

Using quizzes to encourage students to read the required material for class can be effective if we take the time to think things through and plan.


Faculty focus special report: Designing better quizzes: Ideas for rethinking your quiz practices (2018). Magna Publications, Inc.

Sainsbury, E. J., and Walker, R. A. (2008). Assessment as a vehicle for learning: Extending collaboration into teaching. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(2), 103-117.

Starcher, K., and Proffitt, D. (2011). Encouraging students to read: What professors are (and aren’t) doing about it. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. 23(3), 396-407.

Tropman, E. (2014). In defense of reading quizzes. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 26(1), 140-146.

Weimer, M. (2016). Five types of quizzes that deepen engagement with course content. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from


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