Sunday, June 5, 2011

But Sir, the person next to me has a different quiz!

There's a special moment that happens just once each year with each of my classes. It's the first time we are doing a written quiz on the first week's work. I settle the class down, and innocently hand out the quiz paper.  After a few minutes of working quietly, when students are in theory working on their own, someone always calls out: "But Sir, the person next to me has a different quiz!". One or two students gasp - oops! - as they frantically check their neighbour's paper just that little more closely.  I chuckle, "Yes - they are different, because I'm keen to see what you know."  Usually someone else says "But don't you trust us?", to which I chuckle a little more, and say "of course I do" - and leave it at that. On more than one occasion, the students have cheered and clapped - I think they are impressed that I took the effort to make different quizzes, and that I'm not an idiot.  

What the students don't realise (the first time) is that there are actually only two versions - I stacked the papers and handed them out so alternate students received alternate papers. The differences are minor - I'm careful to ensure they have the same level of cognitive and mathematical difficulty. If this sounds like too much hard work for the teacher, see the Practicalities section below on how to do this without too much extra pain!

Here is what my quizzes look like:

Click on the image for a larger view

and this is what the (B) version looked like:

Once the dust has settled down, and the class gets used to the idea, we can then do some great things with having multiple versions of the quiz:
  • Pair Marking: Students swap their papers, and then do a whole class activity working through the answers. Each student marks their partner's paper, assigning a grade for each section. They have to analyse and discuss with their partner if any errors were due to minor mistakes, carelessness, or if the student really had no idea. Because there are two versions of the quiz, each student ends up doing the quiz twice and they end up discussing the answers with each other.  They love "playing the teacher", giving each other grades and writing "teacher style" comments.  Can I trust the students to do the right thing? So far I haven't seen anyone do the wrong thing - they are so keen to mark. And if they cheat - well - it means they had to explain it to each other, and it will show up in the next quiz when I don't do pair marking.  After they have swapped the papers back, I give them five minutes and then collect the papers for myself to check the marking was done correctly.
    Note: This Pair Marking activity can take a whole 50 minute lesson - so I don't do it for every quiz.
  • Take home version: You can give the alternate quiz to each student as a practice paper or for homework.
  • Second attempts: If you use a system liked Standards Based Grading where students are encouraged to re-attempt assessments, you have a spare unused quiz ready to use! In fact, I usually make four versions of each quiz - I hand out the (A) and (B) in class, and have (C) and (D) in reserve for reattempts.
  • Topic Revision: I make the full set of the quiz (all the versions) with solutions for one version available on the class online edmodo group. This makes it available for topic revision prior to the end of topic test.
Some more benefits of having multiple versions of the quizzes:
  • I don't have to impose super-strict test conditions on the class while doing the quiz as the opportunity for cheating is greatly reduced. Since we are doing quizzes regularly, I don't want the class to feel like they are constantly being tested. 
  • If I sense students are experiencing difficulty with the quiz, I actually let some of the pairs help each other - especially if one pair member is much stronger than the other. I know they will be learning and explaining - they won't be just copying because that's not possible.
  • I encourage students to write "I don't know" if they can't do a question, or to write "I'm not sure", "I think this is the answer".
For those of you interested in Standards Based Grading:
  • The use of a simple grading rubric, applies to each section - as opposed to the whole quiz. The quiz above tested three outcomes, hence the three circles for recording each grade.
  • A student experiencing difficulty, can still end up with a quiz result that has a "B+" or an "A" for one section, and a "C" for another. Usually I design the quiz so that the first outcome tested is one tested in the last quiz - increasing the chance for success.
  • This system immediately gives me a set of quizzes for reattempts. I allow students to re-test using the online edmodo version and bring me in their completed paper.
  • Pair Marking increases student understanding of the grading method. Unfortunately this can take a whole lesson, so I don't do Pair Marking all the time.
  • When I hand back the quizzes, I ask students to record their marks in their outcomes sheet (this sheet is glued in their exercise book and tracks all their attempts and outcomes).
  • I encourage students to retake the quiz until they get an "A" for all outcomes. If they end up with the odd "B+" on their second or third attempt, I reassure them that's fine for now (else they burn out). If they get a "A" on the topic test for that outcome, I bump up the corresponding quiz grade.
  • If an outcome needs more work, I will re-test it in the next quiz. Students usually greatly improve on this whole-class second attempt.
Isn't this all extra work? Surprisingly, it turns out to be much much easier than you might think. 
  • Making extra quizzes: If you have time to make one quiz, making the extra versions isn't much extra effort. So long as your quiz is made in a digital tool, it's as simple as copy-and-paste, and change a few numbers and letters. Well - it is for middle level school mathematics :-) It is a little more work for senior school mathematics, and I imagine harder for other subjects.
  • Stacking the papers: Print off your (A) and (B) paper. Put the two sheets into the photocopier at the same time, set the copy count to half the number of students in your class plus some extras. You now have a pile of alternating (A) and (B) papers ready to hand out.  Just make sure you hand it out pair-by-pair.
  • Marking: When you collect the quizzes back, sort them into (A) and (B) piles. Find the best paper in each pile and use it as your marking guide. Because the quizzes are short and sweet, the marking is fast.
  • Yikes - so many more resources to make: Yep - that part is tough. As a new teacher, I'm gradually developing quiz sets for topics and classes. It is too much to do for all classes for all topics at once. But I know that in year or two I will have a full set of powerful tools!

Important update June 10, 2011:  Some recent anonymous class feedback on the quizzes, shows very strong support among the class for the use of regular quizzes and pair-marking. However one student did express concern about other students seeing their work - so some sensitivity is required, and options for these students may be necessary. It is probably also good to explain to students why you are doing pair-marking and set some guidelines on respecting each other's learning and privacy.


  1. Great stuff, here. What software are you using to write the quizzes?

  2. Hehe - believe it or not - PowerPoint! I find it the easiest to move and position things where I want, and the maths equation feature in the Office 2010 is a huge improvement on earlier versions.

  3. Drooling over the collection of quizzes. Where do I send my stamped self-addressed envelope for a copy? :)

  4. I really like how each seperate outcome receives its own grade on the quiz. Allows students to easily see where their strengths are and where they need to practice. thinks this might be a perfect "practice exam" tool. Just need time to create.

    My students are already used to having two quiz sets. My desks are set up in pairs this year and I give a daily one or two question mini quiz at the beginning of each class (since I don't check homework). This was the easiest solution.

    Thanks for a great idea!