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The context:

The mastery quiz is a study tool I have built into lectures in my introductory courses of thirty-five to forty students. The effectiveness of lecture depends on students taking good notes. Too many times I've discovered, through class discussion or students' responses on exam questions, that they have not understood material I've covered in lecture. I have been surprised and dismayed to see what students have written in their notes and what they claim I have said in my lecture. I began using the mastery quiz to improve students' note-taking.

The pedagogical purpose:

The mastery quiz serves two purposes. First, it is a study tool that builds review into the lecture. The quizzes provide an opportunity for students to review and correct their lecture notes before they leave the classroom. Secondly, the quiz makes metacognition public. It provides a format in which students can think about, and even talk about, their thinking and their note-taking.

Description of the strategy:

The mastery quizzes are brief, usually six to eight questions, and directly follow about twenty minutes of lecture. The quizzes are not collected or graded. Students work together in pairs or small groups to review their lecture notes and respond to the quiz questions. As they work, I make myself available to answer questions. I ask, “Is there anything you're not finding in your notes, anything you don't understand?” In the process of responding to the quiz questions, students compare their lecture notes with those of their classmates and thus become more aware of their own note-taking. As students talk in groups I often hear “Why don't I have that in my notes?” or “I have it written down differently than you do.”

Why it is effective:

The effect of the mastery quiz is three-fold. First, students report improved note taking. Students like the quizzes, which they call “note review,” or “lecture review.” They comment that the quizzes “keep them on their toes” during class; knowing that their classmates will be seeing their lecture notes is very motivating. Second, since I began using the mastery quizzes I have seen a significant improvement in test scores. Lastly, seeing the quiz questions serves as a personal reminder. If I neglect to cover a point, we stop and cover it immediately. If I think a point is clear, quiz responses will tell me if I was as clear as mud – and we go over it again. The mastery quiz, then, is a quick and easy way to help students become better note-takers and to make lecture a more effective teaching technique.