How to create effective eLearning quizzes
Many corporate training programs or individual courses include one or more quizzes or other forms of assessment. Assessing what learners know and what they have learned via their training is an important way to gauge learners’ skills and knowledge. It’s also a way to create more effective training, because a quiz can show what’s working in a training program and what’s not.
Writing effective quizzes, like creating effective course content, requires care and thought. Key considerations include at which point or points in the training to test learners and how to write effective quiz questions or exercises that assess learning. The pointers in this article can help you improve your eLearning quizzes.
When should you quiz your learners?
In eLearning, quizzes and assessments generally appear at one or more of these three points:
- Many eLearning modules end with a quiz or final assessment. This is often the key measure of who has completed training and is intended to measure what they’ve learned. Most course assessments don’t do this effectively, which we’ll also address in this article.
- Some training programs or individual courses start with a quiz or “pre-test” in addition to ending with one. This is intended to gauge learners’ existing knowledge so that it’s possible to determine how much their knowledge has increased as a result of the training.
- A knowledge check is a short quiz — or other activity — that pops up during training. It might be at the end of a chapter or section or during a particularly complex section. A knowledge check might be brief — a couple of questions or a short activity. It aims to help learners figure out whether they understood a concept before moving on, and it provides learners who are a bit confused an immediate ability to review the material.
Is your quiz effective?
Whether your quiz is effective depends on your goals, as well as on the quality of the quiz. Consider some of these potential barriers to effective quizzes.
Final quiz is used to track course or training completion
Far too often, the end-of-course quiz exists as a way to check off a requirement: Learners have to complete training to meet a legal or industry requirement. Being able to show that they took the quiz and achieved a passing score meets that requirement.
But this check-the-box approach misses the mark. A quiz may show that the learner got some correct answers, but it won’t show that they’ve mastered the course content, especially if learners can skip the entire content of the course and go right to the quiz. Or if they can click, click, click past each screen and arrive at the quiz without reading a word of the content.
A quiz also won’t be effective if it’s poorly designed, the questions and answers are obvious, or questions address only basic concepts, rather than asking learners to apply their knowledge.
When writing quiz questions, think about how learners might use terms, concepts, and processes described in the course. Consider using mini-scenarios or other question types that align the quiz with your learning objectives.
Quiz is not comprehensive
When giving quizzes online, creating a large pool of test questions and randomly assigning 10 or 25 questions to each learner whenever they take or retake the quiz accomplishes two goals: It reduces the likelihood of cheating by ensuring that each learner’s quiz is unique — a different mix of questions presented in a different order. And it increases the amount of material covered by the test pool, which might increase the range of content covered in the learner’s quiz.
However, it often means that each quiz attempt covers only a subset of the course material. In addition, learners generally don’t need a perfect score to pass, maybe 70% or 80%. So, if enough easy questions pop up in their set of questions, they can pass without learning a thing.
That’s why we recommend writing thoughtful questions that align closely with learning objectives, including meaningful feedback with each question, and using mini-quizzes as knowledge checks throughout a course. These strategies help to ensure that learners are exposed to key content and questions multiple times as they progress through the course.
Instructions are unclear
Can learners retake the quiz or do they get only one chance? If a learner fails the quiz, do they have to retake the entire quiz or redo only the sections or questions they missed? Is there only a single correct response to each question or can they select multiple options? Do they need to drag options to the correct column or sort them into the correct order? How do they do that?
When you create a quiz and work long hours writing questions and answers and putting it all together, how it works might be obvious — to you. It is not necessarily obvious to learners. Include clear instructions to reduce stress and set learners up for success.
While you’re at it, tell them how many questions are in the quiz, how many times they can take it, and whether they can stop in the middle and come back to it later.
Time limits get in the way
Many authoring packages offer the option of time limits on a quiz. That would mean that learners have a set number of minutes from the time they launch a quiz to complete it. However, we recommend against using time limits. A key reason is accessibility — not all learners who may need additional time will have an acknowledged disability or ask for accommodation. This can include learners whose native language is different from the training language, those who are less tech-savvy, and those who need more time to read and process digital content for a variety of reasons. Adding a time limit might increase their stress and their cognitive load, harming their ability to focus and succeed.
Passing score is too low
As described above, each time a learner takes a quiz, they get only a subset of the questions in the question pool. And they probably don’t need a perfect score to pass.
Determining that passing score — 50%? 80%? 90%? — should consider the stakes. A high-school lifeguarding course I took gave certification only to students who earned an A; my B+ meant no summer lifeguarding job! That’s a good rule: You don’t want to put swimmers’ lives in the hands of an unprepared or unskilled lifeguard. But if the real-life consequences of a failure are minimal — the learner would have to look up the information online, say, but no one would be hurt — an 80% or even 70% passing score might be fine.
But this structure can affect the effectiveness of the quiz. Testing learners on a fraction of the content and then passing them or considering their training complete when they score only 70% on that partial quiz does not show that they have learned or retained the content. If it’s essential that learners master material — not merely pass a training course — you may need to try some additional, highly effective strategies. These could include: creating a rigorous exam, adding a knowledge retention strategy to your training program, and offering frequent reviews and opportunities to practice recalling and applying content, even outside of employees’ daily work.
There’s more to life than multiple choice
Multiple-choice questions are not always the best way to check knowledge or understanding. Fortunately, in most eLearning formats and platforms, they are not the only option!
Multiple-choice questions are a good way to test whether someone can match a word with a definition or a meaning with an image or symbol. Writing a mini-scenario with a few multiple-choice questions is a viable option for asking learners to choose the best option or potential result.
But if you need the learner to understand a process and the order of steps or to recall something without prompting, a multiple-choice question falls flat. Depending on your eLearning format and authoring tool, you might be able to offer these question types:
Hotspot or labeled diagram
Present learners with an image, a map, or a diagram, and have them locate items or locations or label parts.
These are ideal for placing steps of a process into the right order, categorizing items, separating “Do’s” from “Don’ts”, or “setting up” a workbench or placing surgical items on a tray in the correct positions.
Learners can match words and definitions, bones with their names or corresponding muscles or tendons, or product features with the correct product(s).
Fill in the blank
Learners must recall the correct word or phrase; to be fair to learners, try to anticipate any variations that would be correct and include those as correct responses.
When learners really need to be able to explain a process or a concept, an online quiz might prove inadequate. Some LMSs and eLearning platforms can capture a longer-form typed answer, but a manager may need to evaluate the learners’ responses.
Effective quizzes show value of training
Ensuring that your quizzes are effective can show the value of the training course or program! When your quizzes reflect the broad and deep content of the course and show learners recalling and applying the content, they enhance and illustrate that your eLearning is effective and valuable.
Learning Hub: free resources for eLearning
The Neovation Learning Hub contains many free resources and articles that can help you improve eLearning outcomes at your organization. Continue learning about Instructional Design topics, read articles on Custom eLearning Development, or find new eLearning tools to help you with your eLearning initiatives.