How do exit quizzes work?

Richmond, B.C. powerhouse teacher Sonya ONeill writes “Exit quizzes…could you post an example?–I’m a bit confused about how to do these well. Do you do translations only? If so, are you starting in Spanish always with all levels? Do you ever use comprehension questions (of the story you just asked) at this time? Are these your main listening assessments?”

OK, today’s question, how can we do exit quizzes?

My system is simple.

  • Based on what we did in class, I read five sentences aloud.  These sentences contain the vocab from the story we are working on, or are sentences directly from that story.  If they are not from the story, they have to be stand-alone meaningful.
  • I tell the kids, “write down what you hear in Spanish, then translate into English.”
  • They write Spanish then translate into English.
  • The kids trade papers and we mark (the Spanish writing doesn’t matter much– it’s comprehension we are after).
  • The kids return the marked papers to each other.
  • I get a show of hands: Put your hand up if you got either 4/5 or 5/5.

If 80% of class got 4 or 5 out of 5, I am happy.  If not, I delivered bad/too little input, or they weren’t listening, and so we need to do more work around those sentences.  Sometimes I collect the marks, sometimes not.

Do I do “comprehension questions”?  By this, Sonya (I think) means, Do I ask the kids comprehension questions based on the story we have read/asked without them looking at/hearing the story at the time of the quiz?  I.e., do they have to remember and then answer?

Never.  Why?  The problems with comprehension questions are as follows

a) especially with beginners, the “mental load” involved in comp questions is super high, because kids have to do three things

  • decode the meaning of the question
  • remember content
  • write answers.

We know output (writing or speaking) does not aid acquisition, so no point with that.  We also know that all we need for acquisition is comprehensible input, so again responses don’t help.  This is a lot of mental work, and Bill VanPatten reminds us that what we might call “mental bandwidth overload” is an inevitable and insurmountable fact.  Basically, the less they have to “do” with a chunk of language, the more processing power they have for each chunk.

b) We also know that comprehension always and massively outpaces production.  Our kids– and we teachers– always  recognise more words in any language than we can produce.  If we ask for output, we may be forcing kids to “do” something they havn’t acquired yet.  

Say I tell my kids five sentences in Spanish, one sentence at a time.  Max (average), Samba (fast processor) and Rorie (insanely fast) all understand the new structures fui and trabajé that were in our story.  But Max hasn’t acquired them (i.e. he can’t say or write them) yet, while Samba and Rorie have.  If we know that acquisition goes at different speeds for different students, does asking for output not penalise Max for something he cannot control?

c) In my view– and I thank James Hosler for this insight– assessment should basically just be another excuse to deliver input to the kids.  I don’t want to play “gotcha” and I want people to succeed, so I’ll focus listening around what they can understand and easily do.

By the way, I think we can totally use questions for exit quizzes, provided we do not ask for output answers.  Just have one sentence be the question and the next the answer.  You say 1. ¿trabajaste anoche? and the kids write it down in Spanish, and then translate it: “did you work last night?”  Your next sentence is 2. “No, no trabajé anoche.  Fui al cine” and the kids write that down, and then they write “No, I didn’t work.  I went to the movies.”  Then you say three more Spanish sentences which they all copy and translate.

Once the quizzes are done and marked, you can also use these for PQA if you have a few minutes at the end of class.  Ask the fast processors some of the questions and have the class listen to what they say.


  1. Thankyou so much for this post. Very timely. Do You have any other suggestions or ideas for other types of exit quizzes? I have read of a teacher asking each student something before they can leave the room but with 30 students and another 30 waiting at the door, this is impractical for me. I much prefer the style you have outlined in this post!!

    1. I guess the type of exit quiz you do is going to depend on your objective. I want the kids to hear more comprehensible input, and I need a set of Listening Numberz for my gradebook, so I just read sentences aloud and they write and translate.

      I havn’t really thought about doing anything else.

  2. Chris,

    How long does it take to do the exit quiz with five questions plus grading?

    When I do dictations (not as quiz) I usually read each sentence three times and give fairly long pauses for students to write because I want the slow processors to feel like they have a chance.

    Granted I often introduce new vocab/structures with dictation, while the quiz would be language that the students hopefully were well into acquiring, but I feel like some of my students would find this kind of exit quiz stressful. I guess part of the key is really short sentences that the students have heard ad nauseam.


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