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Effective Use of Online Quizzes in Science Courses

William Stowe
University of North Texas

Lin Lin
University of North Texas

Abstract: This study investigated ways to effectively incorporate online quizzes in college biology
courses. A total of 151 college students participated in this experimental study. They took the
online quizzes, lecture exams, and surveys. The online quizzes required the students to answer all
the quiz questions correctly before earning quiz credits. Students who scored 10 out of 10 on every
quiz achieved the mastery level. For comparison, the lecture exams were composed with half of the
material from the online quizzes and the other half from material not in the online quizzes. Student
surveys compared the students with online quiz mastery (Group 2) and those without mastery
(Group 1). The results showed that the students with mastery scores used the required 30 minutes
delay between quiz attempts to review quiz feedback and learn the course content, and
consequently, increased their lecture exam scores.


The purpose of this study was to investigate ways to effectively incorporate online quizzes in college
biology courses. Instructors today have access to innovative tools to help students connect their learning to course
content beyond the physical wall of a classroom. One way to get students to read the course content is to use online
quizzes. Online quizzes can be created by the instructor, or they can be supplied to the instructor by the textbook
publisher. The online quizzes can be downloaded into the campus course management system (CMS) for students to
access outside of class. To increase student interaction with the course content and exam scores, online quizzes have
been incorporated into sciences courses such as biology.

Homework and Quiz Assignments in Preparing Students for Science Courses

The most common reason instructors assign reading homework is to get students to read and understand
course material (Ryan, 2006; Johnson and Kiviniemi, 2009). Unfortunately, however, studies have shown that it is
common for students not to prepare for lectures (Sappington, Kinsey, and Munsayac, 2002). Students read very little
to prepare for class, even with reading assignments. The same is true for biology: homework is to a large degree
underutilized in teaching biology (Wood, 2009).

It is difficult to motivate students to read the required text before entering the class, except just before
exams, where studies show that student reading increases (Burchfield and Sappington, 2000; Clump, Bauer, and
Bradley, 2004). Meanwhile, studies with reading-based-homework assignments have found that quizzes or
worksheets with extensive teacher feedback increase both reading the textbook and preparation for class (Ryan,
2006). Regular pre-lecture quizzes have been shown to increase class preparation and in class questions from
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students (Narloch, Garbin, and Turnage 2006; Marcell 2008; Dobson, 2008). Studies have also shown that online
pre-lecture quizzes increase exam scores (Dobson, 2008; Hadsell, 2009; Johnson & Kiviniemi 2009).

The Study

This study used the CMS to deliver the online quizzes to college students who were taking the biology and
environmental courses at a community college. The online quizzes covered the assigned readings. Students were
provided immediate feedback on missed questions. This feedback helped students learn from their mistakes
(Brothen & Wambach, 2001; Ryan, 2006; Johnson & Kiviniemi, 2009). Credit for passing an online quiz was
awarded when all of the questions selected randomly from a question bank were answered correctly in a limited
amount of time (Brothen and Wambach, 2004; Hadsell, 2009; Johnson & Kiviniemi, 2009). Time limits on Internet
quizzes reduced the students ability to use their textbooks to look up the answers as they work through the quiz.
(Hadsell, 2009; Marcell, 2008).

According to Muchovej (2009), voluntary quizzes for extra credit lacked significant participation. In order
to increase student participation, the online quiz scores were part of the course grade. This was consistent with other
studies that placed a grade on the online quizzes (Narloch et al. 2006; Dobson, 2008; Dantas & Kemm, 2008;
Johnson & Kiviniemi, 2009). To determine the effectiveness of online quizzes, students were required to take in-
class exams (Johnson & Kiviniemi, 2009). Half of the material on the exams was from the material with an online
quiz, and the other half of the exam was from material without an online quiz for comparison. The purpose of the
study was to find out if the mastery of the online quizzes may help improve students exam scores in the biology
courses, and why.



The participants (n=151) in the study were students taking biology and environmental science courses at a
community college in the U.S.. None of the participants were science majors. The study was explained to the
participants, and participation was voluntary. The online lecture material for this course was also uploaded in the
CMS. Students were provided instructions on how to take the quizzes.

The Study Procedures

Practice Quiz. During the first face-to-face meetings, the instructor explained how to log into CMS. After
the instructor covered the quiz instructions with the class, a short practice quiz was demonstrated. The questions on
this practice quiz covered the quiz instructions. Brothen and Wambach (2006) recommended practice quizzes.

Online Quizzes and Achieving the Mastery Level of the Quizzes. The first online quiz was made
available to the students during the first week of the semester, and the student continued to take quizzes throughout
the semester until the week before the final exams. The quizzes covered only the assigned reading. The quizzes were
not optional because the objective was to encourage all the students to take the quizzes and to increase exam scores.
The questions came from a randomized bank of questions to reduce the chance of students memorizing the
questions. Questions selected were not the same as the questions on the exams. The quizzes accounted for less than
20% of the total grade in the courses. Quiz credit was earned for correctly answering all the ten questions correctly.
Successfully completing all the ten questions was considered necessary for students to master the assigned material.
Students that scored 10 out of 10 on every quiz achieved the mastery level.

The 30 Minutes Time Delay between Quiz Attempts. Before each quiz, there was a reminder about the
ten-minute time limit. Students were told that they must answer all ten questions correctly in order to earn credit for
the quiz. When a student missed a question or failed to answer all of the questions in ten minutes, the CMS
prevented a retake of a quiz in 30 minutes. The CMS feedback instructed the student to reread the material and
retake the quiz. The time delay between quiz retakes was to encourage the student to study the material, and to
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discourage students from continuously retaking the quiz in order to get all of the questions correct by guessing the
answers. There were no limits on the number of attempts allowed for a quiz. The reasoning behind allowing
unlimited quiz attempts was to increase student preparation and exam scores by reading and mastering the material
on the quiz. It is hoped that the students would be motivated to reread the material in order to answer all the ten
questions on each quiz correctly in order to achieve the mastery level and receive the credit.

Exams. Four noncumulative lecture exams were taken in classrooms while two exams were taken online.
Each exam consisted of 100 multiple-choice questions. None of the questions on the quizzes appeared verbatim on
the exam. Half of the questions on the exam were from the material covered by the quizzes for that section. The
other half of the exam questions were from the material not covered on the quizzes. The results on the exam
questions from the quiz material were compared to those of questions from material covered without quizzes.


The Impact of Achieving the Mastery Level in Online Quizzes

The study divided the students into two groups based on whether they achieved the mastery level of all the
online quizzes, that is, whether they answered all the questions correctly in all their online quizzes. Group 1 was
composed of the students who did not achieve the mastery level of the online quizzes while Group 1 consisted of the
students who achieved the mastery level of all the online quizzes. ANOVA (F (1,147) =27.477, p = .000, g = 0.9, d
= 0.91) was used to compare the two groups lecture test averages. The analysis indicated a significant difference
between the exam averages with Group 2 (M= 82.77) and exam averages Group 1 (M= 72.97). Both the Hedges g
and Cohens d indicated that the mastery scores on the online quizzes had a large effect on the exam scores (see
Table 1 ANOVA of the lecture test averages and quiz mastery).

The Impact of the Thirty Minutes Delay between Quiz Attempts

The students were asked to fill out a survey online. The survey consisted of demographic questions and a 5-
point Likert scale (1 = disagree strongly and 5 = strongly agree) questionnaire. The purpose of the survey was to
find out students opinions about using online quizzes in preparing them for the lecture and exams. One survey
question asked the students if they used the 30 minutes between the quiz attempts to help them master the online
quiz content. A comparison of the Group 2 (M = 3.82) and Group 1 (M = 3.39), significantly (t = -2.184, df
=113.954, p = .031) indicated a difference between how the groups used the 30 minutes delay between attempts. As
mentioned earlier, Group 2 was composed of students who scored 10 out of 10 on all quizzes and achieved the
mastery level. Group 2 used the 30 minutes delay between the quiz attempts to study and master the content.

Another survey question asked the students if they used the 30 minutes between attempts to review the
feedback on the missed questions. Comparison of the Group 2 (M = 4.02) and Group 1 (M = 3.53), indicated that
Group 1 reported (t = -2.712, df =111.344, p = .008) that they didnt use the feedback to study. They didnt use the
required 30 minute delay between attempts to review the feedback from missed questions or study the course
content. Group 2 did use the feedback from the missed questions to study and earn credit for the quiz.

Comparison of Exam Scores with and without Prior Online Quizzes

The exam performance on the lecture quizzes could be due to the Good Student explanation discussed by
Johnson and Kiviniemi (2009). According to Johnson and Kiviniemi (2009), the hard working Good Student
student will score high on both the quizzes and the exams. Accordingly, the online quizzes should not have an effect
on the exam scores. If the online quizzes were actually effective at increasing reading comprehension, then students
would do significantly better on the exams with the online quizzes. To test if the Good Student explanation also
worked in this study, half of the questions on the exams came from materials covered in the online quizzes and the
other half came from the assigned chapter readings not covered in the online quizzes.

There were 1616 missed questions on the exams without the online quizzes, and 1202 missed questions on
the exams with the online quizzes. The paired samples correlations between the number of missed questions on the
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exams with (M = 9.54) and without (M = 12.83) in the online quiz resulted in t = 5.416, p = .000, df = 125. The
results of the paired samples t-test data analysis (t = 5.416, df = 125, p =.000) indicated that the students scored
higher on the part of the exam covered by the online quizzes. The comparison of the number of missed questions on
the exams from the Group 2 students indicated that these students in the study missed fewer questions on average
(M=9.54) in the exams that were covered in the online quizzes than questions on average (M=12.83) in the exams
that were not covered in the online quizzes. Thus, mastery of the online quizzes was effective and helped the
students to improve their exam scores.


The study indicated that it is an effective method to encourage students to take online quizzes and to
achieve the mastery level in their online quizzes (i.e., to receive credits by answering all the online quizzes
correctly). One important factor that makes the method effective is to require 30 minutes delay between quiz
attempts to review over the quiz feedback and course content. The online quizzes helped the students to prepare for
their course content outside the classroom settings. The students with a mastery score on all of the online quizzes
used the required 30 minutes delay between attempts to review over the quiz feedback and course content. The
recommendation for instructors using online quizzes is use the 30 minute delay between attempts to create a study
time for the student to read the feedback, locate the material related to the missed questions, and reread that material
before attempting the quiz again. This will help the students to learn the content and improve their exam scores.
Determining the reason why students didnt achieve mastery scores is possible subject for future study.


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