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How to craft a school history quiz

For some subjects, it’s fairly easy to create assessments. In math, quizzes feature similar problems to those students have already completed in school or for homework. In science, tests usually involve concept recollection, problem-solving, and essay writing.

But what about a history class? Students may predominantly listen to lectures, read a textbook or primary sources, or complete exercises in class. What’s the best way to assess their learning? We’ve put together a list of five ways to craft a history quiz that will help you evaluate how well your students understand the concepts covered in history class. Let’s dive right in!

1. Read through your lecture notes

It’s important in both middle and high school to make sure you include information on assessments that students have actually covered and discussed, and this is especially true for a history class. As a history teacher, I make a habit of reading through my lecture notes before crafting a quiz or a test to make sure that my students are being tested on information they actually know. Students find nothing more frustrating than an assessment that doesn’t reflect what was actually taught in class.

Personally, I find it useful to flip through my lecture notes and put together a study guide, beginning first with the concepts I wanted to include and then incorporating any relevant dates and other information.

Speaking of which …

2. Create a study guide

I really love handing out study guides because it gives students who want to prepare for the test or quiz the necessary tools to succeed. It also allows students to take more responsibility for their own learning. Normally I have a several-page study guide on hand that I’ll substantially shorten for any particular quiz: This helps me hit the ground running when we reach an assessment in any particular unit.

When I taught both ninth and twelfth graders, I handled the study guides differently. I would discuss any questions about the guide with the seniors, but I let them work on it on their own as homework. With the freshmen, however, I worked through the guide with them in class because I wanted to teach them good study habits.

Study guides also make it a lot easier for me to craft the quiz itself. I often review the information I gave my students and then quickly put together the quiz and make the answer key as well. This also streamlines my grading process. In short, it’s a win-win.

3. Include objective information

For students who struggle with writing, I always like to include questions that test their recollection of objective information. History is more than just dates, sure, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important — after all, dates help give context to many other related events.

I had some professors in college who would put dates on history tests and quizzes that we had not been explicitly told to study. I don’t think that’s particularly fair, so I always let my students know in advance about 15–20 dates that I want them to study for the quiz. On the quiz itself, I then normally ask them three different types of questions about dates:

  • When did X happen?
  • What happened in X year?
  • What happened first: X or Y?

Because I want to meet the needs of all my students, I also try to make sure that the objective information on my quizzes is balanced with other types of questions, as some students do struggle with memorization. I normally have objective information worth 10 points out of a 50-point quiz, and I weigh each answer at half a point. That way, the objective information section can boost a student’s score, but not substantially decrease it.

4. Include concept questions

I personally focus the most on conceptual questions because I feel that it’s more important to know the ideas of history than specific dates with no context. Depending on the grade I’m teaching, I’ll ask students to write a one-to-three-paragraph short answer about concepts we had studied in the classroom. For example, in ninth grade ancient history, potential terms could be polis, Cicero, Julius Caesar, ziggurats, hieroglyphics, Sennacherib, and so forth. In twelfth grade modern history, I might include terms like Battle of Antietam, Congress of Vienna, John Pershing, Iwo Jima, imperialism, and World War I Armistice.

Because I want my students to succeed, I normally also give them the option of picking the concept questions they are most comfortable answering from a given bank. For example, if I wanted the students to discuss three concepts, I would give them six options to choose from. I’ve found that this makes students more comfortable when taking my quizzes, and they actually end up performing better!

5. Include an essay question

Although a history quiz is not an English quiz, it’s still important to ask at least one short essay question to allow the students to synthesize the information they’ve studied. I sometimes allow them to bring in an index card of notes and an outline so they can write the best product possible. I make sure to include all of the essay questions on both the study guide and the quiz so students are completely prepared and don’t stress out over it.

In ninth grade ancient history, I might include essay questions like, “How did the pyramids of Ancient Egypt differ from the ziggurats of Ancient Mesopotamia?” or, “How were the Hellenistic Kingdoms that appeared after Alexander the Great different from the Greek poleis like Athens, Sparta, and Corinth?” Similarly, for twelfth grade modern history, I might select essay questions like, “How did World War I differ from World War II?” or, “How was the Congress of Vienna similar to/different from the Paris Peace Conference in 1919?”

Include silly memes!

Writing quizzes for history class isn’t exactly easy, but it’s not impossible either. By following some of the tips outlined here, like including a balance of objective information and concept questions, you can create the best history quiz possible. In addition, by looking at your lecture notes and creating a study guide, you can set your students up for success and encourage them to take responsibility for their learning.

As one last tip, you should consider including silly memes and extra credit questions. One of my professors in college always did this, and it often calmed me down so I performed better on the quizzes. Following this practice, I always include memes on the back of my own quizzes. After completing quizzes, my students have frequently told me how much better this makes them feel.

Sometimes I’ll also assign extra credit questions worth one point each after the quizzes have been graded. Often, these will be more challenging or thought-provoking questions, like, “What was your favorite person that we studied?” or, “What have you learned the most from history class this year?” I always find the answers to these questions very enlightening.

No need to stress — in the end, by following these five tips for crafting a history quiz, you’ll find that creating assessments for your class is actually a breeze. Good luck, and have fun!

Photo credit: klimkin; asi24 /

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