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Pop Quiz! Are They Necessary for Remote Classes?

Updated: Aug 5, 2023

The sudden shift to remote learning compelled teachers worldwide to quickly adapt in-person teaching practices for the virtual environment. One classic activity sparking lively debate is the pop quiz – an impromptu short test aiming to incentivize preparation and assess comprehension.

Students are taking a Pop Quiz!

What Exactly Are Pop Quizzes?

Let’s define pop quizzes as implemented traditionally in physical classrooms:

  • Short, unannounced quizzes administered without any advance notice

  • Typically 5-15 minutes long with just 3-5 basic questions on recently covered topics

  • Focused on assessing retention of foundational facts, concepts, definitions or skills

  • Used as mini-assessments between longer unit exams to spot check understanding

  • The element of surprise and stress is intended to incentivize students to consistently prepare

  • Performing poorly highlights knowledge gaps requiring review and catch-up work

  • Often feel intimidating or overwhelming for students who did not adequately prepare beforehand

In moderation, pop quizzes can provide certain instructional benefits – but likely lose effectiveness when translated to remote learning contexts.

Potential Instructional Benefits of Pop Quizzes

Research on the efficacy of pop quizzes suggests that when judiciously implemented, they offer some potential upsides:

  • Encourage consistent preparation and accountability by adding unpredictability: Students stay engaged knowing quizzes may happen anytime.

  • Provide teachers quick check-ins to spot check comprehension of foundational concepts, formulas, vocab etc. covered in recent lessons.

  • Highlight knowledge gaps or lagging areas needing review and follow-up.

  • Break up lectures, refresh focus, and briefly re-engage student concentration and participation.

  • Add a convenient low-stakes assessment method between lengthier exams.

  • Prepare students for summative assessments which also test material retention.

However, pop quizzes likely lose efficacy in remote environments.

Drawbacks of Pop Quizzes in Remote Teaching

While pop quizzes offer some benefits in physical classrooms, implementing surprise tests in remote lessons poses significant challenges:

  • Technical difficulties like internet outages, power cuts, or device failures could derail quizzes for students as noted in this article on remote assessment best practices.

  • Preventing cheating is a major concern; students can easily google answers. Proctoring apps help but add privacy concerns as discussed in this article on remote test security.

  • The critical surprise timing and spontaneous element is lost; quizzes in scheduled virtual lessons become expected.

  • Less useful gauges of true comprehension since remote exams are often open-book, open-note. Pop quizzes assess different skills.

  • More stress for students already struggling to adapt to remote learning, especially those with test anxiety.

  • Parent objections to "high stakes" tests administered from home without notice.

  • Inequities if home environments aren't conducive to impromptu assessments.

Alternative Assessment Strategies Better Suited for Remote Learning

Rather than insisting on surprise pop quizzes remotely, teachers could assess learning more effectively using alternatives better suited to distance contexts:

Reflective Writing Exercises

Short, low-stakes tasks asking students to summarize key learnings or apply concepts allow self-assessment of understanding.

Discussion Boards

Online threaded discussions foster participation and collaborative analysis of readings, videos, or lectures.

Pulse Checks

Quick comprehension checks using polls, chat, whiteboards etc. during live virtual lessons.

Reading/Video Quizzes

Brief quizzes on assigned readings, videos or podcasts verify students completed preparatory work.

Student Presentations

Short individual or group presentations demonstrate comprehension while building confidence.

Post-Lecture Reflection Questions

A few questions invitation reflection and self-assessment after video or live lessons.

With a little creativity, remote classes can retain engagement, consistency, rigor and accountability without relying solely on conventional surprise pop quiz models that encounter significant barriers online.


While impromptu pop quizzes may incentivize preparation for in-person instruction, technical obstacles, cheating risks, stress, and equity concerns diminish their effectiveness in remote contexts.

However, through inclusive participation-oriented activities, teachers can continue assessing comprehension while keeping remote students motivated outside conventional pop quiz models. The key is selecting alternatives better suited to unique remote learning environments and constraints.

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