Flipping the syllabus: Ensure students read the syllabus and understand expectations with a syllabus quiz

April 14, 2015

Do you suspect students are not reading your well-prepared syllabus? How often do students ask questions about a course requirement you described on the syllabus? Some instructors create a syllabus quiz as an early classroom assessment to ensure that students read the syllabus carefully and understand class expectations.

Use a syllabus quiz as a low-risk trial of a “flipped class” activity

In a “flipped class,” instructors create students’ first exposure to content by assigning preparatory work (e.g, assigned reading, viewing a video, or examining material on a web site) students complete before a class meeting and instructors devote the class meeting time to learning activities such as discussion and application of content. In a face-to-face class, instructors might create a syllabus quiz as a low-stakes first experience with peer instruction. Assign reading the syllabus as the “first exposure to content” component of a “flipped class” and use class time for a collaborative learning experience about course expectations based on the group quiz activity.

Questions for a syllabus quiz

Create a short multiple choice quiz based on 10-12 course requirements and deadlines you describe on your syllabus. You might include questions such as:

  • What happens if a student submits homework or an assignment late?
  • What is the date for the first exam?
  • What is the due date for a specific assignment (identify the assignment)?
  • What is the name the author(s) of the required textbook?
  • Where can students find the supplementary readings?
  • Can students use a laptop or cellphone during class? Or, if forbidden, what are the consequences of violating this policy?
  • How is the final course grade computed?
  • Are students required to attend class? How will their class participation be evaluated?
  • What criteria will the instructor use when grading written work?

Peer Instruction Activity Based on the Syllabus Quiz

Michaelsen, Knight, and Fink (2004) create an answer sheet that tracks individual and group scores on the quiz and enables students and groups to hedge their responses if they are not confident of the correct answer. Create an answer grid for quiz responses. Students need a space to record a value for each response alternative based on their confidence that the answer is correct and track the number of points they earn as an individual and as a member of group for each question.

Picture from Blog entry on 4/14/15


Instructions for students (Individual Syllabus Quiz)

Each question is worth 4 points. Assign a total of 4 points for each question based on your confidence in your answer.

  • If you are sure you know which answer is correct, enter the number 4 in the cell for that option and leave other cells blank.
  • If you are uncertain about the correct response, divide the four points among the alternatives you think might be correct. If you have more confidence about one of the options, you can assign more points to that option (e.g., 3 for option A, 1 for option D).
  • The total points for the four options for a question must equal 4.
  • If you are guessing, assign the number 1 to every option.

Grade the syllabus quiz as a group activity (Group Syllabus Quiz)

This activity requires a scratch-off IF-AT form. These forms provide the correct answers to multiple choice questions on a scratch-off form: wrong answers have a blank whereas a star appears when students scratch off the correct option. Contact CUTLA for information about ordering IF-AT forms.

During this activity, students keep track of the points they earn based on their individual responses. They also track and the points they earn based on the group decisions.

Members of each group discuss their responses and reach consensus about the correct response for the first question. They then scratch off that option for the question on the IF-AT form.

Group Quiz Score

If the group response is correct on the first option scratched, the group earns 4 points. If the group must select a second option to find the correct answer, the group earns 2 points. If the group must select a third option, the group earns 1 point.

Individual Quiz Score

Individual students earn the number of points they assigned to the correct answer when they took the quiz alone. If they assigned 4 points to the correct answer, they earn 4 points. If they assigned 3, 2, 1, or 0 points to the correct answer, that is the number of points they earn.

For class records, all individuals earn the score earned by the group during the group quiz activity. However, because students keep track of both individual and group scores, they will discover that each individual in the group earns a higher score based on the collaborative responses supported by group learning than does any individual working alone. In addition, during the group activity, an overconfident student who presses for an option that proves to be incorrect helps the group realize the wisdom of other students who might have been less assertive but chose the correct answer. After the group loses points on one or two questions, members learn to improve the group’s performance on later questions by first eliciting opinions from all members before deciding which option to scratch off first. This discovery develops group cohesion and fosters effective collaborations on future activities.

Syllabus Quizzes for the Online Environment

Revak (2014) encourages online instructors to create a syllabus quiz. Students can take the quiz multiple times during the first week of class for a low-stakes grade (e.g., earn up to 6 extra-credit points toward a 1,000 point total used to determine the course grade). Create a question library of multiple-choice syllabus questions and use the quiz tool to randomly select questions for a short self-grading quiz. Repeat quiz takers might encounter different questions each time, but will see answers to questions with each administration. The quiz functions as a both a tutorial on the syllabus and an assessment. Although the online syllabus quiz will not promote group work skills, it will ensure that students read the syllabus and understand your course expectations.


Michaelsen, L. K. (2004). Getting started with team-based learning. In L. K. Michaelsen, A. B. Knight, & D. L. Fink (Eds.), Team-based learning (pp. 27 – 50). Sterling, VA: Stylus.


Revak, M. A. (August, 2014). A rising tide lifts all boats: Raising, communicating, and enforcing expectations in online courses. Faculty Focus, Magna Publications. http://www.facultyfocus.com/topic/articles/


Information about IF-AT Forms:  http://www.epsteineducation.com/home/about/how.aspx

Contact CUTLA if you are interested in trying these forms in your class.

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