Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Instructor: Gordon Rule
Course: 03-232: Biochemistry for Engineering Students, Biological Sciences Department, Mellon College of Science
Assessment: Using Quizzes and Item Analysis to Inform Teaching and Learning


Although we know the prerequisite courses that students have taken, it is difficult to assess their actual prior knowledge and any misconceptions. Our goal was to determine which concepts we needed to emphasize in lecture and homework assignments.


Students were assigned readings to prepare for the quizzes, which were generated from question pools using the OLI (Open Learning Initiative). Each quiz is made available to students on-line before a week’s lectures and remains available until the beginning of the following week. The 14 quizzes were worth 10% of the final course grade. Students who took the quiz prior to the week’s lectures earned bonus points.


We used item analysis to interpret the data from OLI’s assessment reports. These data helped us tailor the lectures to the students’ needs. The quizzes themselves encouraged students to complete the readings before lecture, which meant that the students could use the quizzes to self-assess their knowledge.


OLI can generate user-friendly reports on quizzes, but a large question pool is required and the set-up can be daunting. There is also no way to produce aggregate results with sub-pools of questions. Nevertheless, it is worth the effort.

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