Ups and Downs of the 2-Copy Quiz

A few people have asked about implementing the “2-copy quiz,”  so I thought I would write a bit about what I’m doing, what’s going well so far, and what I realize in hindsight I should have done differently.

Also, I want to say thanks and welcome to the new readers who’ve joined since that post was “Freshly-Pressed.”  I’m delighted that you’ve decided to stay. Don’t hesitate to comment on the older items if you are interested — none of these conversations are finished, by a long shot.

Backstory of the 2-Copy Quiz

I got intrigued by the idea of immediate feedback.  It’s easy with after-class make-up quizzes, and I was trying to figure out how to do it with in-class quizzes where a large group of people was likely to finish all at once.

1.  I could grade the quizzes and hand them back the next day

Too late — students have already forgotten why they wrote reactance when they should have thought about resistance.  Also, since the paper’s already graded, they know whether everything’s right or wrong.  It takes the question away.

2.  I could collect their work on one piece of paper, and they would still have the sheet of questions while we discuss the answers

Better, but still not what I want.  They will have forgotten the details of what they wrote and that’s where the devil is.  If I present the correct answers in a “clear, well illustrated way, students believe they are learning but they do not engage … on a deep enough level to realize that what was is presented differs from their prior knowledge.”  This is a quote from a video about superficial learning made by Derek Muller, of Veritasium science vlog fame.  Derek goes on to say that those misconceptions can be cleared up by “presenting students’ misconceptions alongside the scientific concepts.”  It was the alongside part I wanted. It’s not until their thoughts and their actions are suddenly brought into focus at the same time that they realize there is a contradiction.

3.  I could collect their papers, run to the staff room, photocopy them, and come back to review the answers.

And while I was gone, they squeezed all the burning curiosity out of their questions among themselves.  Which is what they normally do in the hallway.

So the conclusion followed: we needed two copies of the quiz.  One for me to grade later, one for them to keep while we reviewed the answers right away. One thing I like about this method is that it doesn’t interrupt the learning.  It actually removes an interruption that would normally happen (students having to walk out into the hall to talk about the test). By inviting the conversation into the classroom, I can be a part of it if that’s helpful, or I can organize the students into groups and get out of the way.

Goal: for students to assess the goodness of their answer

We often met this goal.  Using class time to discuss “rightness” directs their point-chasing energy toward the good judgement I want them to develop (would this be considered educational judo?).  If your students are like mine, they will stop at nothing to find out if they “got the right answer.”  Sometimes this makes me tired, what with the assumption that there’s a single right answer, and the other assumption that rightness is all that counts.  But then I realized that motivation is motivation, and I could probably teach them to jump through flaming hoops or walk on a bed of nails if I put those things between a student who’s just written a test and the “right answers.”

So I put some self-assessment in the way instead.  Their desire to “get the right answer” extends to their self-assessment, of course, but the conversations became more nuanced throughout the term.  At first there was a lot of “will you accept this answer” and “will you accept that answer.”  I tried to help them make inferences about whether an answer is good enough.  I also opened myself up to changing my definition of the right answer if they could substantiate their arguments for an alternate perspective.  Hell, alternate perspectives and substantiating their thinking are more important than whatever was on the quiz.  Later on in the term, I started hearing things like, “No, I don’t think this answer is good enough, it’s a true statement but it doesn’t answer the question,” or “I think this is too vague to be considered proof of this skill.”  They’d rather say it before I say it.  Which means I have to be really careful what language I use during this conversation.  They will repeat it.


I expect the students to write feedback to themselves on their quiz paper.  It can be praise or constructive criticism, but there has to be something for each question.  They see the value of this later when they’re studying to reassess, but it’s a hard sell at first, and I realized after a few weeks that my students actually had no idea how to do it.  For a while, I collected their worksheets at the end of class to read and write back to them.  But I don’t pass back the answer sheets that I correct.  If they know that I’m going to give the answer and some feedback, it takes the responsibility off of them to do it for themselves.

What worked well

  1. It’s easy and cheap. Just print off 2 quiz papers for every student, and have them fill out both.
  2. It’s flexible. You could have them make two full copies of their work.  You could ask them to make a full copy for themselves and an answer copy for the teacher (my tactic at the moment).  You could ask them to make an answer copy for the teacher, and some rough notes for themselves so they can remind themselves of their thinking (what my students actually do).
  3. In keeping with the idea of going with the flow of the learning, I let the class direct the questioning.  There’s no reason we have to review the first question first.  Often there’s one question that everyone is dying to know the answer to, so we talk about that one.
  4. I get an instant archive of student work.  Good for preparing my lesson plans next year, reconstituting my gradebook when a computer crashes, turning over the course to another instructor, submitting documentation to accrediting agencies, etc. etc.

What didn’t always work well

  1. It’s time-consuming to have to copy things to another page.  For numerical answers, it’s pretty easy to copy the final answer, but then you can’t see their work.  For short-answer/essay questions, it’s going to get seriously annoying for students to copy them in full to another page (I make them do it anyway).  Multiple-choice is pretty painless, but it’s a pain to feel limited to one kind of question.
  2. Students don’t always see the value of having their own copy, so they fill out my copy and leave theirs blank.  See Backstory #2 above.
  3. Students don’t always see the value of showing their work, so they fill out two copies with nothing but answers.  See Backstory #2 above.
  4. Students don’t always see the value of assessing their work at all.  The teacher is going to decide the final grade, and the teacher might disagree with their self-assessment, so why not just wait and let “the experts” make the judgement call.
  5. Students don’t always see the value of writing feedback to themselves.
  6. Students sometimes have no idea how to write feedback to themselves.

I struggled with the attitude of “wait for the teacher to decide if it’s good enough.”  I should have made it clearer that improving their ability to evaluate their answers was the point, not a side-effect.  I deliberately held off updating my online gradebook, so that they had to depend on themselves to track their skills (just got my student evals back today and my “poor tracking” of their grades is the #1 complaint).  It’s said best by Shawn Cornally from Think Thank Thunk: “I am not your grade’s babysitter.”  In fact I sometimes wondered if I should stop using the online gradebook altogether.  Yes, sometimes I disagree with their self-assessment; that’s why it’s important for them to take part in the group discussion after the quiz.  That’s where I discuss what I’m looking for in an answer and help them figure out if they’ve provided it.  This is hard on them, and makes them feel insecure, for lots of reasons, and I need to keep thinking about it.

One reason is that writing feedback is something I realized (a bit late) that I had to teach.  I did this in a hurry and without the scaffolding it deserved.  Kelly O’Shea of Physics! Blog! broke it down for me:

How often do you think they’ve practiced the skill of consciously figuring out what caused them to make a mistake? How often do we just say, “That’s okay, you’ll get it next time.” instead of helping them pick out what went wrong? My guess is that they might not even know how to do it.

What’s Next

  • I’m still not sure how to teach them to create feedback for themselves, but it goes to the top of the pile of things to introduce in September next year, not February.
  • I’m toying with the idea that the students should keep an online gradebook updated.  Then I could check up on their scoring (and leave them some feedback about it), instead of them checking up on my scoring, and being annoyed that it’s not posted yet.  Not sure logistically how to do this. (Edit: ActiveGrade is already working on this)
  • A portable scanner.  For $300 I could solve Didn’t-Work #1, 2, and 3.  Just scan their quiz papers as they finish.  Makes it extra-easy for me to annotate the electronic copy and maybe make a screencast for a particular student, if warranted.  Saves trees, too.

Update, July 29, 2011: If you already own a smartphone, the portable scanner is free, and it’s called CamScanner.


  1. Nice. I do this too. We have copy and paper limits so I usually just get their answers/work on a half sheet but I like the idea of having two full copies. I also run into the same problem of having students turn in a paper to me and leave their own blank. Not sure what to do about that either. On the plus side it really does make a difference for those (most of them) that actually take the time to fill out both. Baby/bathwater thing. Don’t want to abandon but I definitely need to figure out a tweak to really encourage it. I guess I could be mean and randomly collect one copy or the other but that’s not really the way I want to go. If you have any breakthroughs, blog and I’ll be following.

    • I could be mean and randomly collect one copy or the other …

      Heh. Just thinking about it made me imagine myself as the villain in a comic strip called "Eeeevil Teacher."

      I also run into the same problem of having students turn in a paper to me and leave their own blank.

      I’m serious about the portable scanner. I’m going shopping this afternoon. That way, there’s only one copy, and we’re both looking at it. I could go back to requiring them to show their work.

      it really does make a difference for those (most of them) that actually take the time to fill out both.

      Exactly; most students really do take this on good faith.

      The hardest part for me is helping them self-assess their answers, after quizzes are passed in. For a while I was collecting their copy at the end of class, and if there was no feedback for a question, I would write back that I wasn’t updating their score until they wrote themselves some feedback. A few chose to reassess rather than write feedback to themselves. In my imaginary ideal online gradebook, students would submit their own scores along with the reasoning for why they should get that score. Then we can talk.

  2. What an interesting concept, 2 copy quizzes. I’m going to think long about this because perhaps my greatest failures this year (in my mind) was adequately addressing wrong thinking in s timely manner.

    You guys are gonna laugh, but a simple solution occured to me which would allow me to pilot this concept with very little cash outlay. Carbon paper. The new carbon paper isn’t so messy and the kids can just keep it in their binders folded up. Huh, did i write ‘new carbon paper’?

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