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How to Make a Quiz Work Harder for You


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When you give a test or quiz, do you basically just grade it, give it back to students, go over the answers, then move on? If you don’t do anything else with the information, if you don’t look carefully at how students answer your test questions, you’re missing a BIG opportunity.

Assessments should give us loads of information about what our students understand, what they don’t understand, and how well we’ve taught them. It took me years of teaching before I realized I was using my tests and quizzes to sort out, reward and punish my students, rather than measure and inform my teaching. I needed to make my assessments work harder for me.

So one year, I added an extra step while grading tests: I kept track of all the wrong answers on one page, tallying exactly which items were being chosen instead. Once I started doing this, I found myself far better equipped to respond to wrong answers: I could reteach specific concepts only to students who needed reteaching, rather than wasting everyone’s time with unnecessary review. I could identify specific misconceptions students had about the material and get better at addressing those the next time around. I also became a much better test maker.

The best part about this system is you only need a pencil, an answer key, and a few extra minutes.

Here it is:



If you’re already doing something like this, I would love to hear about it in the comments. If you have some kind of electronic reporting system that can crunch all these numbers for you and give you the information you need to move forward, awesome. If not, adding this extra step to your assessment routine will make a difference. ♦


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  1. Jeannie Ferguson says:

    This is excellent information. I will do this with my midterm exam next week! Thank you for always sharing your great ideas!

    • I’m so glad you like it! Let me know how it goes, Jeannie!

      • Kathy Sites says:

        Have you ever used ZipGrade? It does this for you and more! The only drawback is it has to be answers that are able to be bubbled as A. B. C. D. or E. I love following your blog. I have gained a lot from it. Thanks for doing this ☺️

  2. maura lincoln says:

    I love this and should do it for each quiz! But , i do this on my mid term and finals. It definitely demonstrates where some learning was not taking place!! UGH.. I realize which unit I really delivered and my students really engaged in the learning process. I go back and redesign where I think there were weaknesses.. Love the Cult of Pedagogy and all the learning and reflecting you make me do!!!

    • Yes, it helps SO much when it’s time to revise units for the future. If I’m not ready to take that step, I’ll just file the summary with all the other unit materials for the future.

  3. Elaina says:

    I do this with my tests as well but with a small change. I teach third grade, so I don’t just use tally marks. I put the name of the student next to the answer choice they picked. This gives me data to know who I need to reteach in small groups.

    • Oh, that’s a good one, Elaina. Thanks for taking the time to share this!

    • Laurel says:

      I do the same thing, except I just use initials. This is really helpful when I plan for small groups and tutoring. I even do this as I teach, in my journal I put initials of anyone with misconceptions or who I can tell needs more practice off to the side where they won’t be seen on the document camera. I love having the data right there so I can address it quickly, and it helps me not lose the data.

  4. Paris says:

    I use Gradecam to do this very thing. I also use Flubaroo. I absolutely agree with you about the importance of aggregate scores. I do exit tickets throughout my unit to see how well I’m doing with the concepts.

    Great topic 🙂

    • Hey Paris! Thanks for telling me about GradeCam; I had never heard of it and now I have a new tool to add to my Tech Guide.

    • caroline clayton says:

      I use Zip Grade. it uses camera on smart phone/iPad, aggregates all data. you can download into a spreadsheet on your computer– then you can sort it in all those crazy ways!!! love it! worth the $7/year for unlimited use!!

  5. Daniel Minger says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    I do the same thing except I do not go by test question I tally according to which standard my students messed up on because then I have a specific itemized detail to address. When I create my tests I align them with a rubric of standards that I also give to the students as a study guide which now becomes more meaningful, they can look at standards they feel need more preparing for versus others. When I go through a test and grade I look for what standard the mistake best aligns with. I do this for each student then share it with them after the test. I have found it also prompts them to ask questions because if they know they know what standard it is then it becomes a much more direct question and instead of evaluating the big picture we can look at the small step or process needed to correct to make the entire thing work. This does take time though at first, but I created an excell spreadsheet with some simple coding on it to crunch my numbers when done and some conditional formatting to color code percentages. With all that said this is quite possible the best thing you can do to improve student learning and your teaching craft because now you have solid data to reflect back upon and begin to analyze to see what improvements can be made.

  6. Hi Jenn! I love the way you explain everything! You always show how easy things are!!

    If you use Google Forms for w
    quizzes, you can get a summary of responses in the Sheet the form creates. I’m on my iPad, so I can’t check on my Chromebook or PC, but I think you clicke the “Form” drop down menu and then choose “summary of responses.” It gives you nice pie charts and percentages of the answers the students gave. (I also mail-merge the spreadsheet into a Word doc so I have quizzes to hand back. And Word mail merge also grades it for me!!)

  7. Jennifer,
    Great video! It’s so important for us to take that last step and analyze the results, but, as a high school English teacher with 170 kids, I’ll confess that manual tallying just wasn’t happening. I found a solution last year with the ZipGrade app. No business relationship with the company, I just think it’s great that I can zap every quiz with my phone and all of the item analysis tallying is automatically done for me. Saves this harried teacher a TON of time. I wrote a bit more about it here, if you’re interested:

    Have a great weekend!

  8. My problem is that I hardly ever give multiple choice quizzes anymore. I like the short answer and essay format because it allows me to see more of their thought process at times. How would you go about easily and quickly aggregating data for this type of response? I think it would be beneficial, but I also feel it would take so much more time because of the variety of responses you may get. What are your thoughts? I’m just about to tackle a paragraph response to a novel, and I’m wondering how I can quickly collect the data. Ideas?

    • I think I would consider what skills or information you’re looking for in each response. So say there’s a piece that’s content-driven (they need to identify a character trait), a piece that’s skill-driven (they need to support their ideas with textual evidence), and a piece that’s test-taking-driven (they need to remember to provide 2 pieces of evidence and include one direct quote). For each question, I would create codes that identify these three areas (trait, evidence, 2 pieces), then each time a student misses in any of these areas, put a tally. That way instead of just saying lots of kids got number 7 wrong, you can better target what area brought them down and address that.

      • I would want to add some notes in those areas. For example, if they consistently use a direct quote out of context to try to support their ideas — are they using the same quote and misinterpreting the intention? (Does that make sense?) Or are they addressing a content-driven piece that is not the “strongest” choice when obviously there is a better answer? Here is where I end up making it take longer to aggregate data for short responses because there are more possibilities. Plus, I’m reviewing 132 papers. I’m thinking — would I make up a chart with those areas and maybe include space to note misconception…. It’s worth it, but it will take longer.

        • It sounds like something that would take some time to set up, but you would get so much useful, targeted information from it, you would ultimately save time that you would have spend just randomly re-teaching concepts to the whole class. You would also save yourself the energy suck caused by thinking everything you teach is going in one ear and out the other. For me it was this second part that I loved — if half the class got a question wrong, but I could determine one broad misconception that came from it, it meant I just needed to make an adjustment, not that I was a crap teacher in general.

    • Rebecca says:

      I look for patterns in incorrect responses. If I’m really a step ahead I jot down potential incorrect responses on my answer key (that only happens until about mid-October realistically). Usually I can spot the trends as I go.

  9. Kate Berry says:

    I use the quiz feature in Edmodo. It’s free and also aggregates the data for T/F or MC questions. Probably similar to Google Forms. I also use it for short-answer responses. Although it doesn’t score the response, it is an electronic way and I can correct/give feedback right from my laptop. No more remembering to bring a stack of papers home.

  10. Melanie says:

    I teach middle school math. I am trying a new system this year where I’m analyzing by student. I have a table with their names and for each test & quiz I write down the types of mistakes they made. It was helpful to have this specific information for conferences, as well as targeting specific skills to work with individual students.

    • That’s a great idea, Melanie. Is it time-consuming? I would love to see a picture of this table. If you are able to send me an image, I can put it up on the site and link people to it.

  11. Frederika Jenner says:

    I looked for the top 4-5 wrongs in order to re teach or bring to group’s attention and discuss. As a science teacher, also looking for misconceptions to correct. I agree, it took me years to conclude that student performance was as much a demonstration of my teaching as their learning. So important.

  12. For online quizzes on Google Forms, I like to use Flubaroo — AMAZING add-on to the response spreadsheet that not only grades the assignment for you, but also gives you data back about each question (graphs of which questions students missed, pie charts detailing student responses for each question, etc.). Absolutely fantastic way to quickly grade assignments and analyze data! Did I mention that I can also email students their grades back? Win for all parties! 🙂

    Love this article — always enjoy reading what you write. Great information for teachers everywhere!

    • Hey Allison! You and several others have sung the praises of Flubaroo, so I definitely need to check it out and get more teachers using it. Thank you!!

  13. This came at a great time. I was just grading quizzes, and I’m going to do this with my next round of papers (and go back and do the same for my other classes).

    I usually use Google Forms/Flubaroo, but this is a great idea for paper!


  14. Judy says:

    How do you know WHO needs the re teaching if you are only using tally marks?

    • That’s a really good question, Judy. Other people in the above comments have added initials or names to their notes. In my case, I usually addressed that in class when we were going over the test results. Since I did this mostly as a college instructor, I would just say to the class “anyone who missed number 5, let’s gather up over here for a few minutes,” and we’d just have a little pow-wow. Other times, when the problem was more serious, I would make a list of names of students who needed concentrated re-teaching. If you look over the comments here, you’ll see that several other teachers have a system similar to mine with improvements, including a few apps that will take care of it for you!

  15. Bill Gabrielson says:

    Here’s an unusual analytical tactic for multiple choice tests.. In the belief that it is better to be closer to the bulls eye I would have students write their answer choices in order e.g. CDBA. if the correct answer were D the student would receive 3 points out of a possible 5 or 2 or 1 depending on where the right answer was placed. As a subsidiary benefit you will avoid the tyranny of the zero.

  16. I like to split my assessments up into “memory” and “thinking” portions and give them on different days. But when it comes to memory types of tests I really like to use Google Forms/Flubaroo or Socrative. Flubaroo has been mentioned, but Socrative has not. Socrative can be used to create MC, Matching, and T/F questions. What is awesome is it will automatically randomize question and answer order which is something Forms/Flubaroo cannot do. Then it creates a report for you that shows who missed what question and the % of the class that missed that question. That report can be placed right into Google Drive or it can be downloaded. Socrative also gives the ability to generate individual pdf reports. Another reason why I love is it allows my students to take the quiz multiple times and be a little different each time.

  17. Hi, I really love this idea and agree with it. As a matter of fact, I have tried to do this myself in the past; however, I tend to do a lot of open-ended type questions, which proves to be more difficult to track like this. Do you have strategies for doing this with open-ended questions?

    • Yes. I would just make notes beside the question on the answer key. The notes would summarize the missteps students took, like “Only gave 2 instead of 3 examples” or “No text evidence” or “Thought I meant _____ instead of _____.” And then I would tally those to see how many students either didn’t follow the instructions correctly (and in what way) or misinterpreted the question. Does that make sense?

  18. Nick Zaveri says:

    Great tip! I’ll be sure to share this with my fellow instructional coaches. A lot of our focus lately has been around data and formative assessment. I enjoy the simplicity of this strategy. Rather than modeling new tools for teachers, here’s a great way to get even more use out an existing tool-the Answer Sheet. Great post, Jen!

  19. Greg says:

    I guess I must have been lucky, when I did my GradDipEd in 1986 this was expected of us. It was part of the reflection on our teaching methods and effectiveness.

  20. Paula Navarro says:

    Hey Jennifer! This has been very helpful. I’m a teacher-student of English and I’m doing my final practice. One of my classes at university is methodology and I’m just about to start doing my final paper on the assessment process. I will definitely take this under consideration.
    Regards from Chile!

  21. ER Schneider says:


  22. I teach HS Math and RARELY give multiple choice. I do note what’s up with my students, but here is a comment that has not been mentioned. More often than not, I find that I could have done a better job WRITING the question that who either trigger the concept better or is more clear to the student!

  23. Becky says:

    I use It will let me put in standards so I can analyze by standard. It gives me wonderful feedback for each question. And a nice visual for weyone who took the test. Best for mc or something short. Could work for some short answer as well.

  24. This is a really great concept that I think is gaining more momentum as educators are realizing that we are teaching skills more than facts. I like how you explained this in a way that a reluctant teacher would be able to fit into their current routine. I always think about the time we spend outside of the instructional day and what kind of work we are doing. Using that time in this way to better prepare for instruction takes away from the time I would have to spend intervening, retesting, calling parents (the not-so-fun part). This is a great post that I plan to keep handy in the future!

  25. Rebecca says:

    Simple time saving tweak – just tally the incorrect answers and then write the total by the question. Why tally twice?

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