Creative Quizzes

Numerous studies have shown that frequent quizzes in class are beneficial to learning. Personally, I give a quiz every Friday. The problem is that quizzes are often stressful and frustrating. Here are some ideas on how to reinvent them:

1. Wager Exams

Let the student choose the number of points he or she wants to wager on each answer. If they are supremely confident, they can wager all of the possible points. But, if they get the question wrong, they will lose all the points wagered. This changes the score range on a typical 0 to 100 point quiz to -100 to 100.

You might recognize this quiz scoring system from adult fun trivia nights – where the last question is often a wager.

This type of quiz is beneficial for several reasons:

  1. It gives you more information. If a student gets a question correct but wagers no points (or “coins,” or whatever you want to call them), you know they were guessing and the subject needs to be retaught. Wager exams can therefore combine the convenience of multiple choice with the detail of short answer exams.
  2. It allows the student to assess their own knowledge rather than guessing and feeling triumphant when they get lucky.
  3. It is a fun window into your students’ personalities (“Wow, John, you bet the ranch on that question!”).
  4. It is more closely resembles decision-making in the “real world,” where there is a penalty for guessing incorrectly.

2. “Be the Teacher” Exam

Write a normal exam, but fill it out, half correct and half incorrect, as a student. Have the students grade the exam. They still have to do every question, but they also have to find where the student messed up.

Students become surprisingly critical and objective when looking at another “student’s” work. Analyzing errors also cements knowledge in a student’s brain. This type of exam is very versatile; I cannot think of any subject in which it could not be used. It also demystifies exams and makes students better test takers.

3. Group Exam

Surprise the students on quiz day by telling them they are allowed to work together, but there is a catch: at the end of the class, you will choose just one student’s test and the grade on that test will be everyone’s grade.

They are therefore forced to make sure everyone is working and the resulting (often hilariously frenetic) cooperation is an awesome learning experience. No class assignment will ever get people working together like a group exam.

4. Postage Stamp Cheat Sheet

Hand out postage-sized pieces of paper. Tell the students that they can bring in a cheat sheet to the exam, but they have to fit all the information onto that tiny paper. They will accept the challenge heartily, and the process of selecting the most essential pieces of information to put on the postage-stamp cheat sheet will help them consolidate their learning.

I have used each of these quiz ideas with a lot of success in my classrooms. They were inspired by discussions of the principles of video game psychology especially from the fantastic book, “Reality is Broken.” They are easy to implement, as they involve a simple change in directions, and will provide powerful learning experiences for your students.

Of course, you can also use technology for a change of pace as well.  If you are looking for some of the best online quiz makers, we have a great roundup of free and paid options.

I look forward to your feedback; I especially love negative feedback!

Feature image courtesy of Flickr, magical-world.


  1. Question about #3: Do all students in the group work together to create the same answers, so any one student should have the same answers as others in the group?

    I love #4. Great idea (after explaining to students what a postage stamp is ;) Do they get to use the cheat sheet during the actual test?

    1. Thanks for the comment bevis! And really pleased you liked the ideas.
      For #3 each student completes their own test with their own answers. It’s the priority of the group to make sure everyone is equally prepared.
      For #4, yes, they do get to use the cheat sheet during the test.
      Hope you and your students have fun with it!

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