A practical guide to creating quizzes: part 1

Practical guidesWe all know what a quiz is. It’s a test of knowledge, typically accomplished by asking a series of questions.

Quizzes are popular in the digital environment, not least because computers find it so easy to deliver the questions and score the answers. In fact, if you were in your first week of a programming course, you’d probably have a go at putting together a multiple choice quiz. Quizzes are an entertaining diversion, particularly when delivered within the context of a game, with rules, levels, competition and prizes, but they can also play a useful role within a learning solution. A function that is often abused, perhaps, but the potential is there.

Quiz shows
TV quiz shows make for good popular entertainment and similar formats can be used within computer-based quizzes

Media elements

Although many quizzes are primarily textual, the possibility is there to use every media element. Images can provide the basis for questions that test for recognition of people, objects or places or to locate elements within interfaces and other spaces. Video can be used to portray situations that test the learner’s ability to make critical judgements. Audio can be employed to check for recognition of voices or pieces of music. A variety of media can also be used to introduce questions and provide feedback.

Interactive capability

Quizzes are essentially interactive. They serve their function in testing knowledge only by eliciting responses from learners. Just about any input device imaginable can be used as the basis for that interaction – key presses, mouse clicks, touches, the lot.


The most common application for a quiz is as a test of mastery. This is fine in principle as long as it really is possible for the knowledge and skills in question to be assessed by the sort of questions that a computer can deliver. To state the obvious, you might be able to check that a pilot understands the principles of aerodynamics using a quiz, but you can’t check they can fly the plane. Some caution also needs to be taken in terms of when a quiz is delivered. If the quiz comes right after the delivery of content (and the learner knows it’s coming), it is all too easy for the learner to hold on to enough of the information to get them through the quiz, but then forget it all the day after. We can probably all remember how possible it was to cram in information before an exam, only to see that evaporate almost as soon as we committed it to paper. A much more valid test of knowledge comes weeks, months or years after original exposure to the information.

Math quiz creator
Tools like this low-cost Math Quiz Creator can be used not only for assessment, but to provide loads of valuable practice

Although their potential is rarely exploited to the full, quizzes can actually play a useful role at just about every stage in the learning process:

  • As a way, right up front, for the learner to find out how much they already know and how much they need to know. This sort of diagnostic pre-test not only demonstrates the need for learning, it helps to direct the learner to content that is likely to be most useful.
  • As a vehicle for delivering the learning content itself. One way to create an engaging lesson is to use a series of quiz questions to challenge and then build on the learner’s prior knowledge. Every question alerts the learner to a gap to fill and all you have to do is oblige.
  • As a means for repetitive drill and practice. Unlike teachers, computers never get bored asking questions and they don’t lose their patience when the learner takes a little longer than expected to get the point. In the classroom, most knowledge is under-rehearsed and most skills under-practised. Quizzes represent a good way to remedy that.

So how do I get started?

There is no shortage of tools for creating quizzes. Most cover the usual range of questions types – multi-choice, multi-answer, free text response, sequencing, matching, selecting hotspots and all sorts of variations. All e-learning authoring tools come with a quiz making capability, plus there are specialist stand-alone tools, including ones that you can use for high-stakes assessments or for quiz games.

Articulate Quizmaker
You will find a quiz-building capability in just about any authoring tool, including this one which forms part of Articulate Studio

In practice, it’s likely that tools will be the least of your problems. Writing the questions is a much more challenging task, and that’s where we’ll be directing our attention next.

Coming in part 2: using the correct question for the job

About Clive Shepherd

Clive Shepherd has written 244 post in this blog.

Clive is a consultant specialising in the application of technology to learning and business communications. He was previously Director of Training and Creative Services for a multinational corporation and co-founder of a major multimedia development company. For four years he was chair of the eLearning Network.

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  1. says

    Hey Clive, some really great points that you made in this article. If I may be so bold, I’d like to add some commentary to a few of them. You see, I’m an educator, and I also work part time for a quiz software company called Question Writer. (Our customers such as corporate trainers, and computer based learning educators often tell us that “they’ve tried everything out there, and and our quiz maker is the best they’ve ever tried.)

    Anyway, enough with the shame less self promotion! (wink)

    What I really wanted to address is a few points that you brought up:

    Regarding Media Elements, you said:

    “Although many quizzes are primarily textual, the possibility is there to use every media element….Video can be used to portray situations that test the learner’s ability to make critical judgements.”

    This is so on point! A very common request this past year from our customers was that we build in a way for authors to add videos to their quizzes.

    Since we added it, they really seem to love this feature!

    And it makes sense too, because there are soooo many type of learning situations that are MUCH better demonstrated in person… And video is the next best thing!

    In our quiz software, it’s very easy to add Youtube videos in particular. And we’re noticing that the feature is getting used more and more each day!

    Our savvy users know how to make their youtube videos private so that they don’t show up publicly in youtube.

    On this point you made:

    “If the quiz comes right after the delivery of content (and the learner knows it’s coming), it is all too easy for the learner to hold on to enough of the information to get them through the quiz, but then forget it all the day after.”

    We believe that quizzes are actually a great LEARNING tool, not just an assessment of rote memorization. Which is rather easy in the short term as you so clearly illustrated. With my students, I frequently use some of the more advanced features of our software to create multi-threaded tests, where based on their answers, it can send them down a different path. We find that when we do this and quiz more often, like say after each major learning event. That our students learn and retain the information better. And by using semi-open ended questions, that they tend to get a more deep understanding of the subject matter, than what a typical multiple-choice, or matching quiz or test can produce.

    You mentioned pre-tests too. We find that a lot of our corporate clients use our software to do competency assessments for prospective hires. What we’ve encouraged them to do, is to also apply this practice to the orientation process for new hires who’ve become a part of their team, and then follow up with a post-training test. Companies that have done this, have reported seeing much better scores and increased competency in their new employees. I think it has something to do with the fact, that they’ve been prepared to know what to look for. And it improves their learning.

    I’m definitely a big fan of using quizzes as a learning tool in and of itself. One of my favorite things about our tool: Question Writer, is the level of feedback that it can give to trainees and students. Which helps them self asses whether they are really getting a complete understanding of the material.

    I’d really like to see more individuals, creating quizzes for themselves</em. Just for practice. Wouldn't you agree?

    Alrighty, I've rambled on long enough… Thanks Clive for the thought provoking article! I look forward to the next one.

    Please feel free to stop by our blog and pay us a visit. We'll be publishing a lot more informative content articles, quizzes, and videos like this there very soon. Would love to share ideas with you both here, and at our little home on the web too!

    Stop by anytime! http://www.questionwriter.com/blog/

    Talk soon!

    Jennifer Venfield
    Educator and Quiz Making Specialist

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