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Pop quizzes? Nah, let’s play!

It was finals week at my son’s school and I asked him if he was ready for his chemistry test. He explained that he’d been studying all week, day and night, and, yes, he was ready.  Despite his assurances and confidence, he “coulda done better.”  If I really wanted to help improve his learning and memory, I shouldn’t have just asked questions. I should have quizzed him.

Apparently, my son is in good company. Most students aren’t so good at knowing whether or not they’ve mastered their material. In a meta-analysis of practice quizzing, researchers Olusola Adesope and Narayankripa Sundararajan (Washington State University) and Dominic Trevisan (Simon Fraser University) concluded, “practice tests are more beneficial for learning than restudying and all other comparison conditions.”

The question is how can we gamify quizzing and make it fun? To start, let’s toss out multiple choice quizzes that don’t require learners to come up with the ideas on their own.

Writing out answers:  Great

Flashcards, as old-fashioned as they are, really work quite well.  They force you to write down the information, which begins to imprint information into your memory, then you benefit of repetition, sorting out the info you already know well, and playing games with yourself — like seeing how quickly you can work through your deck.

Another fun studying tool is to use Quick Response Whiteboards or other write-and-wipe boards. Like flashcards, these tools stimulate your body and brain. The more parts of the brain you can activate when studying, the better! Although my son Henry was livid when it happened, we now joke about the time he had to redo his homework after it was taken away in a study hall (he’d been helping out a friend). The combination of the emotional response and the need to re-write answers to the questions made the subject impossible to forget.

Keep it tactile

You can also create tactile learning experiences by using a fidget or tossable toy, like a Koosh ball. To balance a cerebral activity like studying, balls can lighten the atmosphere, be used for memory games, or simply activate another part of your brain–all of which can help with recall.

Speed games and buzzers: Use with caution

Be careful of rapid-response competitive games. While competition is fun, playful and lively, all other learners stop thinking on their own after the first-to-buzz-in shouts out an answer. Don’t rob your slower thinkers of the opportunity to come with answers on their own.

If you’re not sure what I mean, I expect you have your own version of this experience: we were on a family trip when my younger son was trying to learn all of the state capitols.  We’d prompt him with a question and before he could answer, my older boy would blurt it out. Capitols, times tables, Spanish Vocab . . . same story! Be sure to give your learners enough time to think up their answer before you hand it to them. If you want to gamify the experience, then time your learners to see how long it takes to answer a question or work through a stack of flashcards.  Keep trying to reduce that time, to help improve learning and memory.

Allow sufficient time and effort

As hard as it is not to procrastinate, waiting until the last minute to study does a disservice to your brain. Remembering material across multiple days, and “sleeping on it” gives the brain time to transfer the information from short-term to long-term memory. Make a game of practice quizzes by seeing how much you can increase your score each time. With multiple tries, learners won’t feel badly if their initial attempt is a flop–rather it gives them a low threshold from which to improve.

As you get ready for the coming school year, be sure to stock up on some “fun” study tools from Trainers Warehouse!

Learn more about Quick Response Boards here.


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