In order for teachers to evaluate their students’ learning, they usually schedule assessments. However, not all assessments are equally valuable for learning. High stakes testing such as midterms, end-terms, and standardized tests do little to aid either teaching or learning as they provide no immediate feedback.  

Conversely, low stakes assessments increase learning because they provide retrieval practice.  These can take various forms such as homework, in-class writing assignments, or graded outlines. Frequent in-class quizzes that have little or no point value monitor student learning and provide feedback that can assist both teachers and students.  These “formative assessments”  not only allow teachers to check student understanding but also to monitor their teaching. 

5 year research project  with middle school students indicated that retrieval practice in the form of quizzes improves long term learning.  And quizzes that include feedback also improve student meta-cognition. 

Furthermore,  the positive effect of simply expecting a test  can be beneficial to learning.   MRI findings confirmed that retrieval practice is effective: “Brain regions associated with successful retrieval of conceptual representations and semantic processing were more strongly engaged after retrieval practice.”  So, let’s help students to improve their learning with an effective low stakes assessment: quizzes!


Laura Maniglia