University-Exams

UNIVERSITY STUDENTS’ GRADES IMPROVE WITH WEEKLY QUIZZES

Assessing students by weekly online tests throughout the year can help to improve a student’s effort and grades at negligible cost to the university. The quizzes are most effective if students are encouraged to participate through a variety of ‘carrot’ and ‘stick’ incentives, including having the results count towards final grades. Their positive effects are biggest for less able students.

These are among the findings of an experiment carried out by economists Arnaud Chevalier, Peter Dolton and Melanie Luhrmann at Royal Holloway, University of London. Their research, presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2013 annual conference, set up weekly online tests that offered relevant, individual feedback on student knowledge of the course.

In the first cohort of students, the quizzes did not count towards the student’s grade but there were incentives for participation in some weeks with a book voucher for the best performer, access to additional study material or simply making the quiz compulsory. In addition to these incentives, some of the quizzes counted towards the final grades for a second cohort of students.

The authors find that:

  • Without incentives, only one third of students attempt quizzes.
  • When the quizzes form part of the overall grade or are a compulsory part of the course, participation reaches 80% or above – and this effect is greater for less able students.
  • By increasing quiz participation, overall student grades rise by 4.5%, which suggests that quiz participation increases learning. Again, the effect is larger for less able students.
  • The book voucher actually reduces participation – something the authors suspect is because the book voucher actually obscures the true benefits of taking part in the quiz.

The authors conclude that making quizzes count towards the final grade helps increase student effort and improves their grades. They note:

‘The effects that we find compare favourably with the results of other experiments in which students received financial incentives – and they can be implemented at a much lower cost’.

More…

Can university courses be designed to provide more feedback and induce more student effort? Would this lead to better performance at exams or just displacement of effort across the year? Arnaud Chevalier, Peter Dolton and Melanie Luhrmann conducted an experiment, in which they changed the incentives to exercise effort in some large first year undergraduate courses. They find a substantial improvement in students’ efforts and performance, at negligible costs to the institution.

In the study, they use weekly online tests to measure the effort of students. In the first cohort of students, quizzes did not count towards the students’ grade but there were incentives for participation in some weeks with a book voucher for the best performer, access to additional study material or simply calling the quiz compulsory. In addition to these incentives, some of the quizzes counted towards the final grades for a second cohort of students.

The authors find that without incentives, only a third of students attempt quizzes, although they provide relevant, individualised feedback on the student’s knowledge of the course content. So there is room for increases in effort through the provision of additional incentives.

Note, however, that not all incentives increase participation; book vouchers reduce it, probably due to crowding out of intrinsic motivation. The largest effects in participation were found in weeks where the researchers introduced assessment weighting or declared quizzes a compulsory part of the course. In these cases, participation reached 80% or above.

Furthermore, the effect of these incentives is greater for students in the lower half of the ability distribution, helping to close the gap in quiz participation. Moreover, by increasing quiz participation, incentives increase grades by 4.5%, implying that quiz participation increased learning. Again, this effect is larger for the less able students.

The authors conclude that making quizzes count towards the final grade helps to increase students’ effort and improves their grades. The grade effect compares favourably with other experiments in which students received financial incentives – and can be implemented at a much lower cost.

ENDS


Contact:

Arnaud Chevalier: +44 1784 443968, arnaud.chevalier@rhul.ac.uk

RES media consultant Romesh Vaitilingam:
+44 (0) 7768 661095
romesh@vaitilingam.com
@econromesh

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