The Effect of Announced Quizzes on Exam Performance

By Azorlosa, Julian L.; Renner, Catherine H. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, December 2006 | Go to article overview

The Effect of Announced Quizzes on Exam Performance


Azorlosa, Julian L., Renner, Catherine H., Journal of Instructional Psychology


We administered announced, multiple-choice quizzes to 1 of 2 sections of a Psychology of Learning course in each of 2 consecutive semesters. We administered the quizzes between the first and second exams and discontinued them between the second and third. At the end of each semester, students completed a questionnaire about their studying and whether the quizzes helped them prepare for the exam. We found that attendance was higher in the quiz sections during the quiz portion of the semester. In both semesters, students reported that the quizzes caused them to study more and feel better prepared for the exam. However, there was no difference in exam performance between the quiz and no-quiz sections.

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Brief, frequently administered exams, or quizzes, serve many instructional purposes. One of the primary reasons for frequent testing is to motivate students to study on a more regular basis. Regularly scheduled exams, spaced several weeks apart, seem to produce studying behavior that is characteristic of fixed-interval (FI) schedules. In this schedule, the target behavior is virtually absent at the start of the interval and does not reach a high level until the interval is almost over. Once the interval is completed and reinforcement is collected, the behavior then stops and this "scalloped" pattern repeats itself. The study behavior of students, in which exams serve as the reinforcers (or at least the opportunity to earn reinforcement), so often resembles the FI pattern seen in the lab, that introductory psychology textbooks often use studying as an example of an FI schedule (e.g., Passer & Smith, 2001; Weiten, 1998). Upper division texts on the psychology of learning (Domjan, 2003) also use this example, and there is empirical support for this phenomenon (Mawhinney, 1971).

Quizzes may reduce the FI scallop and induce more frequent studying. More frequent studying (e.g., reading the textbook) may produce at least two important results. First, it requires the students to engage in distributed rather than massed practice. It is well established that distributed practice is more effective (Dempster, 1996). Second, if the quizzes contain material not yet covered by lecture or discussion, prior reading should make the classroom time more beneficial. Indeed, there is evidence that reading compliance among college students is not high (Sappington, Kinsey, & Munsayac, 2002) and has in fact been declining during the 1980s and 1990s (Burchfield & Sappington, 2000).

It seems intuitively obvious (at least to us and colleagues with whom we have discussed this issue), that quizzes will produce earlier and increased studying by students and thus the two results discussed previously will be achieved. However, faculty may be reluctant to give quizzes because of the belief that students find them aversive. This seems especially true for unannounced or "pop" quizzes. Thorne (2000) cited several studies confirming student's aversion for pop quizzes and found that they were made much less aversive when given for extra credit. However, he presented no data that students' exam scores improved as a result. Sporer (2001) also gave quizzes for extra credit and reported that the quizzes reduced anxiety about the exams and improved exam scores, although she presented no data. Additionally, Wilder, Flood, and Stromsnes (2001) found that extra-credit pop quizzes increased attendance and that students liked the quizzes. The students also reported that the quizzes helped them keep up with the course material. However, the quizzes did not improve exam performance. Ruscio (2001) found that randomly presented quizzes increased students' reading as defined by the percentage of students that passed the quizzes. However, he did not present any data that showed that the quizzes improved performance on scheduled exams.

There seems to be, at best, only anecdotal evidence that pop quizzes improve exam performance.

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