Testing and quizzes


Assess and give feedback to learners

Appropriate methods for teaching, learning and assessing in the subject area in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme

What can I do?

  • Use weekly online quizzes to help students gauge their learning and develop mastery
  • Give access to future content once students have mastered the previous week's topic
  • Provide students with feedback to quiz questions so they know how to improve

What is this about?

Testing and quizzes are commonplace in educational settings. In this instance, tests and quizzes refer to either formative or summative assessments that test students on content. Tests can include multiple-choice questions, true-or-false questions, fill-in-the-blanks, short-answer questions, a combination of these (and more). As part of testing, master-learning involves blocking access to future content until people demonstrate a particular high-level of understanding. Demonstrating mastery is often compared to demonstrating competence, where the former is about excellence and the latter concerns meeting a minimum expectation.

What's the evidence say?

Testing students results in improvements in academic performance compared to not testing them (➕➕➕➕➕) 1,3,4. This effect has been found when comparing students who are tested to students who do no testing (➕➕➕) and students who passively review notes or re-study information (➕➕➕➕➕) 3. Testing also seems to be more effective when students only complete tests once (➕➕➕➕➕) 1. when they receive immediate feedback about their performances (➕➕➕➕➕) 3,4, when they complete tests online (➕➕➕➕➕) 4, and when they contributed to the final grade (➕➕➕➕) 4. The type of questions (e.g., multiple-choice, short-answer) doesn't seem to alter these effects, but testing seems to be more effective in psychology subjects (➕➕➕➕) compared to other subjects (➕➕➕) 4. Academic performance is also improved when students are required to demonstrate mastery (➕➕➕➕) 2. Mastery-learning has larger effects when the bar is set quite high (e.g., score >90% on tests) (➕➕➕➕➕) and when used in the social sciences (➕➕➕➕➕) but was still effective in other fields (➕➕➕➕) 2.

What's the underlying theory?

There a several underlying theories that can be used to explain why testing might influence learning (see THIS PAPER for a summary of eight). Generally though, these theories explain that testing influence learning because people must undergo a process of retrieval. Retrieval - or summoning information from memory - requires active engagement. In comparison, simply reading or listening to information is passive and doesn't require people to actively engage in cognitive processes. Some of these theories also posit that testing not only requires people to retrieve information, but improve their abilities to learn new content. This affordance might be a result of people being able to more easily bind previous learning to 'new' information.

Where does the evidence come from?

This summary is informed by four meta-analyses 1-4. One of these 1 explored the effects of practice tests on academic achievement. The quality of this meta-analysis was rated as low-moderate (➕➕). While the overall number of primary studies was large and they came from diverse fields, risk of bias wasn't reported, heterogeneity was high, and there was a risk of publication bias. The second meta-analysis 2 focused on mastery-learning approaches. The quality of this meta-analysis was rated as moderate (➕➕➕). The paper was downgraded as the authors did not report heterogeneity or publication bias. The third paper 3 explored testing effects in psychology subjects only. This meta-analysis was high-quality (➕➕➕➕), but was downgraded because of it's focus on a single discipline. The fourth meta-analysis 4 was rated as low-moderate (➕➕). This paper reported a high risk of bias in the primary studies and didn't report heterogeneity or publication bias.


1 Adesope, O. O., Trevisan, D. A., & Sundararajan, N. (2017). Rethinking the use of tests: a meta-analysis of practice testing. Review of Educational Research, 87(3), 659–701. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654316689306

2 Kulik, C. L. C., Kulik, J. A., & Bangert-Drowns, R. L. (1990). Effectiveness of mastery learning programs: a meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 60(2), 265-299. https://doi.org/10.3102%2F00346543060002265

3 Schwieren, J., Barenberg, J., & Dutke, S. (2017). The testing effect in the psychology classroom: a meta-analytic perspective. Psychology Learning and Teaching, 16(2), 179-196. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1475725717695149

4 Sotola, L. K., & Crede, M. (2020). Regarding class quizzes: a meta-analytic synthesis of studies on the relationship between frequent low-stakes testing and class performance. Educational Psychology Review, 33, 407-426. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-020-09563-9

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