Quizzing Doesn’t Need To Cause Stress

by Jessica Golding ’11

It is that dreaded moment of the day: quiz time. Throughout the week, it varies among which classes it occurs in, but the generalized feeling remains the same. “Ugh, quizzes,” many kids groan. But school does not have to feel this way. Just the type of quiz alone can have a huge mental impact on how students approach it.

The pop quiz and the open note quiz are similar in that they do not require studying beforehand but vary in their effects.

Pop quizzes are most commonly used in fact-based subjects like math and history, although they are not used very often. They may seem beneficial to the teacher because hey, his or her students are getting valuable exposure to the experience of performing under stress. However, this rationale is too good to be true. The moment a teacher mouths the words “pop quiz” papers go flying, notebooks are flipping and heart rates start rising. The effects of pop quizzes have been studied by Dr. Allen Mendler, author of “Connecting with Students,” and his conclusion is to limit them as much as possible. “Pop quizzes contribute unnecessarily to anxiety and rarely lead to increased competence,” Mendler writes. “In fact, the sudden wave of fear that an unexpected test elicits can quickly shut down learning and memory, leading to poorer performance.”

The greatest problem with pop quizzes is not when the teacher announces the first one. The problem lies with the students’ perception that any day they could be handed a pop quiz, any day they could have to be prepared to take a test. This perception causes a level of stress daily in students that can create unnecessary disruptions to the classroom, like students bothering the teacher every day by asking if they have a quiz and students scrambling to study before the tardy bell rings.

With the addition of pop quizzes into a teacher’s curriculum, a trust issue between teacher and student develops. No one likes to be played with, not students or teachers. In order to increase trust in the teacher/student relationship, the teacher must take it upon themselves to not play games with their students’ grades.

The classroom environment does not have to be an adversarial one in which a teacher threatens students with pop quizes. An open note quiz is a much better testing option when a teacher is looking to grade students where they have not studied beforehand. The largest benefit of testing students through an open note quiz is the fact that a teacher is able to test students on their notes, basically showing how much they paid attention in class. “You always hope as you’re going along that kids are always listening without needing to be prompted or threatened to listen,” said English teacher Beth Dibler, who gives open note quizzes and pop quizzes in her classroom. “An open note quiz rewards students for being attentive as you’re lecturing or reading, or as they are reading themselves and taking notes as they go along.”

Open note quizzes are more helpful for the students’ academic lives in the future in terms of performing under stress. With open note quizzes, students may experience a little stress, but then are quickly comforted with the concept of being able to use their hard work in the class, such as their notes from lectures and the textbook. The students who paid attention and took notes in and out of class get rewarded for their hard work and extra effort to succeed in the class by being able to put that extra effort towards their grade.

With open note quizzes, teachers will be able to point out students who may be off-track, falling behind or not understanding material. Teachers have the opportunity to note which students have better notes, which contain valuable information that will come in handy while taking the open note quiz. This allows them to notice a correlation between the quality of one’s notes versus that student’s quiz grade. Because students have their notes available, teachers may also use this opportunity to expose students to more difficult testing questions and help them to prepare for college-level questions.

Teachers, when wanting to quiz students without the traditional, pre-assigned quiz, should consider testing through an open note quiz, the more productive and less stressful alternative to pop quizzes.