Mastery quizzes help SUNY Cortland Psychology students improve performance


The State University of New York College at Cortland was founded in 1848 as the Cortland Normal School and became a four-year college in 1941. In 1948, Cortland was a founding member of the State University of New York. Often called SUNY Cortland or Cortland State, the university now has about 7,000 students pursuing degrees within its three academic divisions—arts and sciences, education and professional studies. More than 500 faculty members teach in 28 academic departments.

Mastery Quizzes

Associate Professor of Psychology Melvyn King turned to Questionmark several years ago after deciding his Introduction to Psychology students would benefit from computerized quizzes. He and two colleagues work from a Questionmark Perception item bank with at least 200 questions for each chapter of the students’ textbook, adjusting the questions whenever a new edition of the book is published. Questions for these mastery quizzes are drawn randomly from the item bank to create individualized assessments. The quizzes always include two or three vocabulary questions along with questions about the textbook contents.

Students must earn 80 percent or higher on each chapter quiz containing 30 questions randomly drawn from the item bank. If they don’t reach that score they receive a zero, but they may take each quiz as many times as they like in order to pass. The quizzes, which often incorporate graphs and other visual aids, pose different questions than those the students will be asked on any other examination or in the final exam for the course. Delivering the quizzes using Questionmark Secure helps prevent students from switching tasks while they are answering questions – to search for information on the Web, for instance, or to print quizzes.

King also uses Questionmark quizzes made up of questions from textbook publishers to help students master the material in Child Development and Advanced Developmental Psychology courses. Other department members use Questionmark quizzes during courses in Educational Psychology, Psychological Tests and Measures, and Applied Behavioral Analysis. In some courses, quizzes are used to ensure that students meet a minimum standard at the beginning of each term.

Online Courses

In online courses, quiz scores contribute 10-25 percent to each student’s final grade. Due to the shorter time frames of these courses, students are allowed just 3 to 5 attempts on each quiz. They receive credit for their top score on each quiz instead of having to reach the 80 percent score required to pass a mastery quiz.

Feedback and Scoring

King provides one or two sentences of feedback to Introductory Psychology students who answer questions incorrectly as a means of correcting misconceptions and guiding them to relevant learning resources. In other cases, the page number in the text is given as feedback. He uses the Perception Grade Book Report to identify students’ highest grades when they’ve taken a quiz more than once. He likes being able to list all the quizzes available in that session for each student and refer to the complete record if a student doubts the accuracy of his or her grade. (This report can also be used to view and calculate final grades based on several assessments, weighting individual test scores to contribute more or less to the final grade.)

Improving Student Performance

“I think that many of the students do much better in these courses because we do the quizzing,” comments King. “We only have rudimentary data on this, but my sense is that when we started doing the mastery quizzing, the students’ average grades went up. The need to pass the mastery quizzes may have caused some students to withdraw from the course, but for those who remain it looks as if we have picked up their grades by 10 to 12 percent.”