Follow Up: The 15-Second Rule of Test-Taking

A few weeks ago we learned that students tend to do better on quizzes when they read a little before looking at quiz questions. Unfortunately, we also found that this wasn’t what our readers were doing. According to our data, nearly two-thirds of our students have opened at least one quiz to look at questions within the first 15 seconds of reading. Naturally, teachers were curious about this and some even struck up conversations on Twitter.

The teachers wanted to know whether this was the case across all students or if reading ability affected when a student opened the quiz. To understand how various types of readers open the quiz panel, we used the Newsela percentile. The Newsela percentile provides a percentile to all students after they have submitted 5-8 quizzes. Using the same cut scores provided by SBACC, we then group students into four levels — Level 1 to Level 4 with 4 being our strongest readers.

We initially looked at all levels of students to see if a certain level of a student was more likely to open the quiz right away. We found that across all levels, there were similar numbers of students opening the quiz within the first 15 seconds.

Still, this was specific to opening the quiz within 15 seconds. To answer whether reading level affected how long students spent on articles before opening quizzes, we needed to look beyond 15 seconds. We examined the average time students spent on an article before they opened quizzes to see whether that had more of an effect.

This time, the results were surprising. We noticed that strong readers in Level 4 spend nearly 40 more seconds on an article before opening up the quiz. In other words, the stronger readers wait to open the quiz until they’ve read a bit of the article or done some pre-reading exercises. The weaker readers were much more likely to open the quiz right away.

Next, we looked beyond the groups of students to their scores. We reconfirmed that spending more time doing pre-reading exercises or reading parts of the article prior to looking at quiz questions correlated with better quiz scores. On their worst scoring quizzes (25% or less), students in Level 1 only spent 40 seconds on average looking at the article before opening the quiz. However, on their best scoring quizzes (70% or higher), students in Level 1 avoided opening the quiz for around 60 seconds.


25% or below 26 to 69% Above 70%
Level 1 42.6 52.3 61.2
Level 2 50.6 66.3 73.3
Level 3 57.5 79.9 87.3
Level 4 51.2 100.4 91.9

Although it surprises some teachers, we found that for the most part, stronger readers wait longer before looking at quiz questions. This does not necessarily mean that students should read the entire article prior to looking at a single quiz question. However, we would recommend having students do some pre-reading exercises or read the first section of an article before they open the quiz.

Teachers – what do you make of these results? Tweet us @Newsela, we’d love to hear from you.

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