A Quiz about the Syllabus?

This is a post by Greet Van Belle, Director of Adjunct Excellence at Mercy College, formerly a professor of European Languages and Literatures at Queens College.

“Is the final cumulative?” “How much do the quizzes count?” “When are your office hours?” “Where can I buy the textbook?” “What is next week’s reading assignment?” You have heard questions like these from your students, in person or by email, and may have found yourself answering, “It’s on the syllabus”, wondering why your students don’t check the syllabus first.  We suggest you try a quiz on the syllabus, maybe even requiring your students to take it as many times as is needed for them to get a perfect score.  Technology is perfect for assignments like this.  Below, we describe how to create and administer a quiz on the syllabus using Blackboard, but the overall idea can be implemented using other online technologies (some alternatives are described here).

Our inspiration for this tip is a Chronicle article about technologies to help faculty avoid having students constantly emailing with requests for help, in particular, a comment by proftowanda (in reply to jabberwocky12):

Start every course with a quiz on the syllabus — easily set up online, repeatable until students score 100 percent — and you will see extraordinary decline in the amount of emails.  (I mapped it.)  The LMS “FAQ” forum also is fine, as is instituting the 24- to 48-hour wait for replies — but both of those also will work better when students have actually read the syllabus for the quiz to see that most of their questions already have been anticipated and answered.

So, how can you set up and administer a quiz about your syllabus?

Here we go, in two easy steps. (Before you stop reading… we promise, it’s easy, and easier if you read these instructions with Blackboard open in a window next to this one.)

Step One: create the quiz. To do so, find the Control Panel in the Course Management lower section of the sidebar. Open up the Tools area, then the Test, surveys and pools tab. (Follow the screen captures below, left to right.)

controlpanel-3 arrow-2quizaboutsyllabus_tests-3
click-build-test-3 arrow-2namequiz-3

Include questions on any and all content covered in your syllabus, especially the content you get frequent questions about. You could try multiple choice style questions (great for handling issues like “How much is the final paper worth?”), true/false questions (excellent for addressing uncertainties about whether you give extra credit or whether the final is cumulative), or any other type of question you like. This might even be an opportunity for you to ask your students to write to you about what they expect to learn in your class.

Step Two: once you have created your test, you need to deploy it. Go to your Course Menu (in the upper section of the sidebar), click +, then click Create content area, where you will be prompted to name your test: “What’s on the syllabus?” for example.

quizaboutsyllabus_coursemenu2 arrow-2createcontentarea quizaboutsyllabus_addcontentarea

Click Submit, then click on the “What’s on the syllabus?” tab you have just created in your Course Menu. Opening the Create Assessment tab followed by clicking on Test will let you select the test file you created earlier and stored in your Course Files.

createquiz-3 arrow-2quiz_you_built

In essence, you have now just ported your test from your Course Files to your course proper. Here, you can work on your test’s settings, like choosing how many times students can take it. Consider forcing them to repeat the test until they get it right, or use error rates to identify aspects of your syllabus that your students are unclear about, and which you might want to discuss further in class. You can also define the period in which they can take the test. Earlier in the semester is best, but you may design a mid- or late-semester refresher.

Voilà, you’re done! Anticipate a decrease in the number of emails with questions that your syllabus already answers: less hair pulling for you, more time for interesting questions from them.


  1. Jean Kelly
    Thank you for your comments. We've edited the post and hope the steps are clearer now.
  2. Lewis Cook
    How about a few arrows to indicate wether the progression of exemplary screens is horizontal or vertical? (I'm sure this would be obvious once one had done this once...)
  3. Lewis Cook
    Just a quick first impression-response to the "visuals' above -- at a glance, it's not clear to me whether the illustrated screens are arranged top left, then topright, lower left, lower right {etc.} or vertically from the left column to the right. It's not intuitive, that is. Wouldn't a few discreet arrows be handy here?

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