Using LMS quizzes for formative assessment

The LMS quiz is a simple and effective way of incorporating formative assessment into teaching.

Why do we use formative assessment?

Formative assessment is an important part of learning and has many functions that can improve outcomes for students. Formative assessments are usually lower-stakes, periodic assessments (that may or may not contribute towards students' final marks), and are best placed at strategic points during the learning journey. The goal of formative assessment is:

  • To allow students to check their knowledge and progress in a subject, so that they can adapt their learning as necessary
  • To allow teaching staff to check students' knowledge and progress in a subject, so that they can adapt their teaching as necessary
  • To provide an opportunity for students to develop their learning during the process of the assessment.

Using LMS quizzes for formative assessment

Formative assessments can take many forms, for example a reflective journal, a draft submission, a discussion post, in fact, any activity can be considered a formative assessment as long as it provides students and/or teaching staff with feedback on the learning progress or contributes to furthering the learning itself. A simple and effective way of incorporating formative assessment in your subject is to use an LMS quiz.

Where and when to place formative quizzes in your subject?

When it comes to formative assessment, the timing depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you want students to develop their learning while completing the assessment, it is best placed during a particular module or topic. For example, a quiz could be placed part way through a Module in the LMS, and might take the form of a problem that needs to be solved by students. The intention here would be that students develop their skills, thinking, and knowledge by working through the problem in the quiz. It may be that students do not begin the problem with all the skills they need, but would develop them as part of completing it. The problem could also be scaffolded through several questions, allowing students to methodically work their way through each step and checking for feedback at each point by answering a quiz question.

Alternately, if the purpose of a formative assessment is to allow students to test themselves on whether they have understood concepts at the end of a topic, a formative assessment quiz could be placed at the end of a Module. These quizzes could also be setup to allow students as many attempts as they wish, so that they can revisit the quiz as needed, and when it comes to revising for final assessments.

Can LMS quizzes check higher-order thinking, or just lower-order thinking (e.g. recall)?

When we think of online quizzes, we usually think of multiple choice questions (MCQs) first. A common critique of MCQs is that they can often end up targeting lower-order thinking in students. The humble MCQ should not be overlooked though! As they say, 'there are no stupid questions..' and the seemingly humble MCQ can in fact target higher-order thinking if designed to do so. Some general pointers on how to write great MCQs can be found below:

Quick guide - dos and don'ts of MCQs

Do/Don't General strategies Designing items Designing alternatives/distratcors
Do Use familiar language commonly used during classes Express the full problem in the stem. Limit the number of alternatives - no more than 3-5 is best.
Do Familiarise students with examples of MCQs Use clear, unambiguous wording in the question stem. Make alternatives appealing and plausible.
Do Write questions throughout the term to avoid a rush at the end. Ensure the stem is meaningful in and of itself. Make alternatives grammatically consistent with the stem.
Do Design questions that can be modified and recycled across cohorts.   Place alternatives in some meaningful order.
Do Use a mix of question types within a single quiz or exam.   Create alternatives that are similar length.
Don't Use verbal association clues from the stem in the key. Make question stems too complicated or cluttered with irrelevant information. Use terms like 'all of the above', 'none of the above' and absolutes such as 'always', 'never', 'all', or 'none'.
Don't Use trick questions - questions should test students' knowledge and understanding, not their ability to deconstruct the item. Use a stem that is incomplete,  has gaps or is a partial sentence. Make answer options too complicated or include overlapping choices (e.g. A or B, A and B).
Don't Use negative words unless learning outcomes require it. Negative wording can unnecessarily confuse students in high-pressure exam situations. Ask students to choose the incorrect answer from a list of alternatives. This can increase students' cognitive load. It is much more productive and positive to ask students to select the best answer.  

(Bone & Prosser, 2020)

What other question types can I use in LMS quizzes other than MCQs?

LMS quizzes offer a variety of question types, from Fill-in-the-blank, True/False, Matching questions, to Essays, and more. The following list outlines the question types available, and links to further information on each. Depending on the type of learning/thinking you want students to undertake, you may wish to think about which question type may be most appropriate.

Benefits of using LMS quizzes for formative assessment

1. The LMS can do the marking!

One benefit of using an LMS quiz is that some or all of the marking can be done for you (by the LMS) and if applicable, grades can be easily managed in the Grade book. Of course, not all formative assessments need to be graded. When setting up your quiz, you can choose for it to be a 'Practice' quiz, or 'Graded' quiz. Selecting a Practice quiz means it does not contribute to students' final marks, and flags to students that the activity is designed to help them check their knowledge and progress. Practice quizzes can also be set up to allow multiple attempts, allowing students to continually check their knowledge both during the learning of specific content, as well as returning to the quiz later if required.

Further information on setting up Practice and Graded quizzes.

2. Re-using and allocating a randomised selection of questions is easy

Once you have gone to the trouble of creating your quiz questions, the LMS makes it easy for you to create 'Quiz banks' so that you can organise your questions by topic, or difficulty and re-use them each time the subject rolls over to a new instance. Moreover, using quiz banks can allow you to set up quizzes where each student gets a randomly selected set of questions each time they attempt the quiz. This creates a more rigorous learning experience for students where they can essentially complete a different learning activity each time they attempt the quiz.

3. Asynchronous accessibility

Using an LMS quiz can provide an asynchronous activity, meaning it can be completed at any time by students. These sorts of activities benefit students by providing flexibility and allowing students to have autonomy in their own learning journey. It also means that students can access quizzes when they are first released to reinforce the learning they are currently undertaking, but also later for revision purposes if needed.

4. They work, and students like them!

Studies show that when using quizzes for formative assessment "the average grade(s) on online quizzes were found to be significant predictor(s) of the grades on the final exam (and that) students significantly improved their scores and greatly shortened their performance time on the last attempts of the online quiz, as compared to their first attempts." By this result, we can gain confidence that the purpose of the formative assessment has been achieved, as students results improving throughout the periodic assessments and being correlated to the final mark shows that students have developed their learning, and that the the quizzes were apt at measuring and providing feedback on performance. An added benefit to the fact that quizzes are effective in formative assessment is that students also like these types of activities: "The investigation into the students’ attitudes towards online quizzes reveals a generally positive attitude." (Cohen & Sasson, 2016)

Further information

If you would like to discuss using formative assessment in your subject, or aspects of using quizzes for formative assessment, please contact our team at Learning Environments. We are happy to make a time to talk with you about your ideas and how to implement them in the LMS.


Cohen, D.,  Sasson,  I., (2016). Online quizzes in a virtual learning environment as a tool for formative assessment. Journal of Technology and Science Education, 6(3): 188-208.

Bone, E., Prosser, M., (2020). Multiple choice questions: an introductory guide. Retrieved from