Outsmart the Cheaters: Vocab. Quiz Strategy

She was pretty and quite bright. He was handsome and charming but not so smart. Together, they were the golden couple of the freshman class. She was in my 2nd period; he was in 5th, right after lunch.

A few months into the year, I noticed something peculiar. She, let’s call her Sandy, did well on my vocab. quizzes but often missed one or two questions. He (“Danny” seems right) always bested Sandy’s score. It was weird. Sandy was focused, a model student. Danny? Not even.

For the next vocab. quiz, I wrote two different versions with the same word bank. Sure enough, Danny wrote the morning class’ answers in the exact order on his paper, earning a zero and my disdain. The kicker, though, is that Danny wasn’t the only one. Nearly a third of my 5th period used some combination of 2nd period’s answers, forcing me to realize I’d been terribly naive.

For awhile, I tried to stay ahead of the cheaters by writing separate quizzes for each of my five classes, but I quickly grew weary. I had better things to do with my Sunday afternoons. The next year, I tossed the above quiz format altogether and came up with an easy to prep, easy to grade, cheat-proof vocabulary quiz, one I’ve used now for about a decade.

Here’s how it works:

Once a month or so, I’ll give a vocab. quiz on a Friday before our SSR session. The quiz has just three questions.

1. I announce a vocab. word and have students write the word’s definition.

2. I give a different word and students write an accurate synonym.

3. I say a third word and students write an accurate antonym.

The definition, synonym, and antonym don’t have to be precisely the same words that we used in class to discuss our Words on Wednesday bell-ringer slides. They just need to be accurate.

You may have noticed that this year I’m trying to make more videos to share my ideas on YouTube. Here’s the latest one with me talking about this same idea:

This three-question method is no prep and pretty much impossible to cheat on because I choose different words for each of my classes on the spot as I’m giving the quiz. It’s also easy to grade. I mean, each quiz is only three questions long, so I’m almost always able to score and enter them in the grade book before students are done with their SSR session.

I don’t print anything. Instead, students use a half-sheet of binder or scrap paper to record their answers. For a student with an IEP that requires written rather than oral instructions, I’ll handwrite the three words on an index card before class and quietly slide the card to the kid when the quiz begins. I suppose you could write the three words on the board or project them as you give the quiz, but I haven’t needed to take those steps.

One last reason to love this method is that make-ups are also simple. If a student’s absent on a Friday, the make-up quiz takes about 90 seconds before school or at lunch. I give the kid three entirely different words than were given to her classmates and I don’t even have her write down the answers. She just tells me her answers and I immediately enter the score into the grade book. Easy. Peasy.

Want to save prep time and keep kids honest? Give the three-question vocab. quiz a try. Teach on, everyone!

Photo credit: Sarah C. Stanley, Flickr, CC-BY-2.0.
Photo used as illustration only. These kids are not my actual Sandy and Danny.

16 thoughts on “Outsmart the Cheaters: Vocab. Quiz Strategy

  1. Rachel Mathias says:

    Yes. I love this. I have done versions of this. I have also been known to call kids up to my desk and just ask them the definitions of the words.

  2. Absolutely, Rachel! Over the years, I’ve learned to just keep things simple. I used to make so much more work for myself. No more. 🙂

  3. This is a great idea! It makes sense, especially for make-up tests. Finding time to have students come to me to make up a missing quiz is a nightmare, but your solution will be an easy fix. This year, I have one student who has missed both Fridays, which is when I give my tests.

    By the way, I have about 95% of names memorized. 😉

  4. Good job, Michelle! And, yes, make-ups can be a pain. I’d give that Frequent Friday Fly-Away kid the option of having one make-up quiz count for both missing quizzes, too. That’ll save you both some time. 🙂

  5. meganmcrae727 says:

    This method has completely changed my teaching. I have expanded these quizzers into all of my subjects and the kiddos love them. I give instant feedback, multiple combinations to retry for credit back, and gives me tons of grades. You have saved me and I am forever grateful!

  6. So glad to hear this, Meg! Yup, I like that I can quickly take the pulse of the room and easily identify kids who are repeatedly struggling. Each quiz is so small that it doesn’t hurt students’ overall grade if they make a slip here or there, but the little quizzes do add up over time so they matter in the end. It’s quick for me and my kids love the almost-instant feedback. Win-win. LOVE hearing that this works in your room, too. 🙂

  7. This is brilliant, Laura! I’m adopting this too!

    Thanks for the tip!! 😉

  8. I don’t know about brilliant, Carolyn, but it’s certainly useful. Glad this’ll fit into your classroom routine! 🙂

  9. My vocab quizzes are one part spelling, one part matching word to definition, one part matching to a sentence they’ve already seen. I randomly call out the words, so their word bank is different for each class. If they cheated from one class to the next, they would fail miserably. Doesn’t mean I haven’t seen it happen, though!

  10. Looks like we’ve built similar assessment hacks, Elizabeth! Sounds like a great plan to me. 🙂

  11. I am thinking of implementing a version of this in my class. How do you grade it? If each question is weighted equally and students get one wrong, they have a D (even if it is small points). How do you handle that?

  12. Hi Nicole,
    Great question! Each of the three questions is worth just two points, so a Friday vocab. quiz is worth a total of six points. I don’t weight grades, which makes all of this easier. Basically, I explain to students that the vocab. quizzes (and the reading comp. 5-pt. “quizzers” that I regularly use) are worth such a small number of points that an occasional low score doesn’t impact their overall grade in a significant way. If, though, they regularly underperform on the vocab. quizzes/reading quizzers, then that will start to have an impact after a while. It’s much better for them to have many, many small opportunities for success than to have only one or two large vocab. assessments per semester. Happily, no one’s ever complained to me about the small quiz scoring system, but I suppose I’d be open to giving a complaining party the option of taking a super-sized vocab. exam at the end of the semester to replace the average of those little quizzes, if it became an issue. Again, I’m glad I haven’t ever had to do this. Whew!

  13. Awesome! That’s what I figured, so thanks for confirming. I am going to start doing these kinds of quizzes this week! Thanks for your posts. I am a second-year teacher and have used several ideas from your blog to improve how I teach.

  14. Thanks for this blog post!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: