The benefits of using quizzes in online courses

Cognitively the act of taking a quiz, calling up knowledge from memory, makes that memory stronger and easier to access. So students who are more frequently quizzed retain more knowledge of the subject they are studying. Retrieval practice, such as with flash cards and practice quizzes has been found to be a powerful study method. Quizzes are beneficial learning check exercises to include in online courses as well. In academic courses it’s a common expectation that some of the assignments will be quizzes. Drafting quiz questions is a common checklist item on a course quality QA guide.


Here are some of the benefits of using quizzes in online courses:

  • Retrieval practice occurring during quizzes can greatly enhance retention of the retrieved information. An even higher level of retention than from restudying or rereading the course material.
  • Quizzes permit students to discover gaps in their knowledge and focus study efforts on difficult material.
  • An indirect effect of quizzes was found that if quizzed frequently, students tended to study more and with more regularity.
  • Quizzing has been found to enable better metacognitive monitoring for both students and teachers because it provides feedback as to how well learning is progressing. Quizzes can be a beneficial self-learning check for students.
  • Every time a student calls up knowledge from memory like when taking a quiz, that memory solidifies becoming more stable and more accessible.

A Scientific American article noted that “research in cognitive science and psychology shows that testing, done right, can be an effective way to learn. Taking tests can produce better recall of facts and a deeper understanding than an education devoid of exams2.” In the academic world more frequent quizzing leads to better grades and academic performance. Practice quizzing in the academic realm can reduce high-stakes test-taking anxiety in students. In the continuing education and enrichment space the key benefit is better retention of useful knowledge and quizzes become lower stakes learning opportunities.

Enhancing quizzes as a learning opportunity with feedback and reflection

In order for a quiz to effectively function as a learning opportunity students need to receive feedback: information about what they got right and what they got wrong. So it’s important to thoughtfully setup feedback in online course quizzes. Learning management systems, like Canvas, have the ability to show feedback on both correct and incorrect answers. See this what options can I set in a quiz article for more information about setting up automatic feedback on question responses.

Getting students to engage in reflection after a test also helps reinforce what they learned. Some instructors use a quiz evaluation/reflection exercise called a ‘test wrapper’2. In it students are asked how think they could have studied better and if there’s any areas the instructor could help with.

Using quizzes as a method to ensure video lessons are fully watched by students

Having a quiz about a video is my instructional design colleague Amy’s recommended way of encouraging participants to watch full video lessons. Here’s some more info about Using Canvas quizzes as learning checks to assess that videos are watched. After the video in a course module the instructor can place a quiz to act as a learning check. Then assign a passing score that’s required to open the next module.

Recommendations for use of quizzes in Extension courses

Low-stakes quizzes are useful in Extension courses for ensuring video lessons are fully watched and getting participants to think about the material they just viewed (thereby retaining more knowledge from the course content). Some participants occasionally choose to not watch whole videos lessons missing out on key knowledge. A quiz acts as a self-learning check for them to reflect on what they learned and a method to assess they are ready to move on to the next lesson. Many Canvas LMS courses use a passing score on an end-of-module quiz to unlock the next module. It provides a time to pause and reflect on what was learned to wrap up that module lesson before jumping into the next lesson.

Since an online Extension course is lower stakes than an academic course, it’s a good idea to kept quizzes less formal, with a lighter tone. Quizzes don’t have to tedious, they can include questions designed to be fun and crafted for the intended age group. For example questions written for a 4-H age group might be different in tone than those written for an adult class. Using fun question types can make a quiz more like edutainment than an academic assessment. Both Canvas LMS quizzes and H5P learning objects have question types than can be used to create entertaining and engaging exercises. Taking a lighter, edutainment approach to quizzing also helps reduce traditional test-taking anxiety in participants putting them at ease.

Canvas LMS quizzing resources

Here are some additional resources related to using quizzes in the Canvas learning management system:

Written by Jon Gladden, FCS eLearning Developer


1) Roediger, Henry & Putnam, Adam & Sumeracki, Megan. (2011). Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice. 10.1016/B978-0-12-387691-1.00001-6. Retrieved from: . Accessed on 14 Sep 21.

2) Paul, Annie Murphy. Researchers Find That Frequent Tests Can Boost Learning. Scientific American 313, 2, 54-61 (August 2015). Retrieved from: Accessed on 14 Sep 21.