12 Best Practices for Writing Quizzes and Exercises

If you weren’t using online quiz makers before, you likely started using some soon after the outbreak of  COVID-19 when everyone went into lockdown. Even prior to the big migration to online learning, many teachers were already experimenting with quiz tools in and out of the classroom. At the 2013 TESOL convention, Susan Gaer demonstrated the use of Poll Everywhere for a single question. (See post.) More recently at the 2019 TESOL convention, Melanie Gobert recommended some tools for vocabulary exercises, including Quizlet and Quiz Busters. (See post.)

Whatever tools you choose to build a quiz, even if it’s made on a Word document, there are some best practices to consider.

1. Interactive quizzes vs. teacher-graded? Be practical!
Short answer quizzes allow students to express more, but they demand more time to correct. Will you have the time to grade all submissions in a timely manner? An alternative is to create a combination of interactive questions that are automatically graded and one or two open-answer questions that are submitted for grading.

2. Match the format to the purpose.
Sentence scrambles are suitable to test syntax, for example, but they aren’t the best choice to test comprehension of a text. You’d be better off creating a set of true/false or multiple choice items.

3. Get creative within the limitations of the tools.
You may be stuck with only one format: multiple choice. As long as you can choose the number of answer choices, you can turn that format into different kinds of exercises:
Two answer choices: True or false?
Three or four answer choices: Which answer is (or is not) correct?
Three or four answer choices: Fill-in-the-blank.

A sorting task can be used to test pronunciation and listening by having students sort minimal pairs. Alternatively, they could be asked to sort pros and cons after a reading passage. Another way to use a sorting task for comprehension is to have students identify details that were or weren’t mentioned.

Explore all the features available. More robust tools will allow for audio, video, and images. Visuals add appeal, but more important, they can be part of the quiz.

4. Consider omitting the directions.
Depending on the format, you may not need to write any direction lines. Some platforms create user-friendly games that are very intuitive. Some exercises are clearly multiple choice with a drop-down arrow revealing the choices. As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

5. Be clear, concise, and consistent when you give directions.
Avoid high-level vocabulary and long sentences. If you’re writing multiple exercises with the same format, use the same directions. Suggestions:
Decide if each statement is true or false.
Match the words to their meanings.
Choose the best answer to each question.
Choose the best answer to complete each sentence.
Put the words in the correct order.
Find the error in each sentence.

Some platforms allow for audio directions. See my early experiments on TinyTap.

6. If you can customize feedback, add a variety of responses. 
If you have control over the feedback, you can vary confirmation of a correct answer. Simple quiz tools only display “Correct” or “Incorrect” to the user. Others might use a green check or a red ‘X’ as an alternative to using words. In my experiments on TinyTap, I chose to give audio feedback: Great! Correct! That’s right. And the like. For wrong answers: No. Try again. /No. That’s not it.

7. If you can add an explanation, only use this feature if it’s necessary.
Too much reading slows down the user. Matching words to definitions is straightforward, so “Correct” or “Incorrect” is sufficient feedback once the correct answer is shown. However, determining when commas are necessary with adjective clauses requires reasoning. For that reason, I included lengthy feedback in my multiple choice exercise. (Click to view.)

8. Don’t follow an unvaried pattern in multiple choice exercises.
Review your work. Did you make answer choice A the correct answer every time? Think of abracadabra minus the R’s. Similarly, throw in a couple of true answers. Don’t make them all false!

9. Proofread your exercises and consider saving an offline copy.
If spelling mistakes aren’t highlighted in the quiz maker, you can write the quiz offline and then copy and paste. A Word doc will highlight typos. This also creates a back-up. Heaven forbid something goes wrong and your quiz isn’t saved! Then you still have the Word doc with the content. You’ll still have to take the time to plug it all in, but all the brain work has been saved.

10. Read everything aloud.
This might make it easier to consider the flow of your wording. Revise to make everything clear and natural.

11. Consider the length of each exercise.
Will students be able to complete each exercise within a reasonable amount of time? Trim if necessary. A long exercise could be broken into two. 20 items is off-putting. 10 is manageable.

12. Test the exercises. 
Does each item work?

Happy quiz making!

Featured photo retrieved from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/quiz-exam-questionnaire-2137664/.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Matthew says:

    Thanks, these are very helpful ideas and reminders.

    1. Hi Matthew. Thanks for visiting and reading my post. Glad the ideas were useful!

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