Students get better grades when tested frequently in class

August 30, 1999

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Students may hate frequent tests in their classes, but new research suggests this teaching strategy may help them earn better grades.

Several studies in college-level education classes found that students who received a quiz on reading material every week outperformed other students on midterm and final examination grades by 4 to 24 percent.

A ten-year retrospective of studies on achievement motivation included the finding that students with low grades benefit the most from frequent testing.

According to Bruce W. Tuckman, an educational psychologist at Ohio State University, three main factors -- attitude, strategy, and drive -- determine students' motivation to achieve. While teachers have done much in the last decade to improve the first two, Tuckman said little has been done to boost students' drive.

"Even when students believe they can learn material in a class, and when they know the appropriate strategies for learning, they won't do it -- until we give them a reason to do it," Tuckman said.

His solution? Quiz students regularly so they can't procrastinate. Tuckman presented his motivation theory and research results Aug. 22 in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

Tuckman did much of this research while at Florida State University. He is continuing this work on student motivation as head of Ohio State's new Academic Learning Lab.

In two studies, Tuckman compared the performance of two classes who were taking an educational psychology course. One class he quizzed every week on the reading assigned for that week. Those students knew when to expect the quiz, and what material would be covered. He didn't quiz the other class, but gave them comparable homework assignments on the same reading material. In a third study, he compared the performance of these two groups with a third class who were given neither quizzes nor homework assignments.

Students who were quizzed in the first two studies outperformed the other students' grades by an average of 4 percent and 7 percent respectively. In the third study, quizzed students outperformed the students who did homework by 16 percent, and the students who did neither by 24 percent.

More meaningful than the average performance of a class is the improvement in grades for individual students, Tuckman explained. Students with average or relatively high grade point averages (GPAs) earned approximately the same grade for the midterm or final exam whether they were quizzed or did homework. But the students with low GPAs improved their grades dramatically when they were forced to study for a quiz every week.

In one of the studies, students with low GPAs who were quizzed weekly outperformed their counterparts by 18 percent. In all three studies, students with low GPAs who were given spotquizzes -- a term Tuckman coined for his weekly tests -- earned better grades than students with average GPAs.

"This shows that some people have low GPAs not because they're not smart, but because they don't work hard," said Tuckman. "And if you get them to stop procrastinating and work hard -- which these spotquizzes did -- then you can get them to perform to the highest level of their ability. In these cases, they displayed ability even higher than the middle-GPA students."

Ironically for Tuckman, the students didn't appreciate the benefits of the quizzes, at least not at first. "I was famous for the spotquizzes at Florida State. Students hated me. They raged in front of the whole class. They hated being quizzed, and yet, it worked," Tuckman said.

He added that at the end of the course, students often felt differently, since their knowledge and grades reflected the fact that they kept up with their studies every week. Many commented to Tuckman that they would not have done the assigned reading if not for the quizzes.

Tuckman contrasted his technique of quizzing students weekly with the more common situation in higher education in which students are only tested on one or two midterm exams and one final exam.

"By the time a midterm rolls around, students are already either successful or in big trouble," said Tuckman. "If teachers want to increase students' drive and get them to keep up with their schoolwork, we have to evaluate students' performance over shorter intervals of time." He acknowledged that quizzing means more work for teachers, but maintained that the result is worth it.

In his first year at Ohio State, Tuckman has begun teaching "Individual Learning and Motivation Strategies for Success in College," a study skills course which students can take for credit. He is focusing his efforts on students who are experiencing problems academically.

The Academic Learning Lab (ALL), which Tuckman heads, is a facility that will help students learn study skills, self-motivation strategies, time management, test-taking strategies, notetaking, and more. ALL staff will also assist students in mastering specific courses that give them difficulty.
-end-
Contact: Bruce W. Tuckman, (614) 688-8284; Tuckman.5@osu.edu

Written by Pam Frost, (614) 292-9475; Frost.18@osu.edu

Ohio State University

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