Quiz vs test vs exam: What’s the difference?

If you’re a teacher or online course creator, you know that assessing your students’ understanding of the material is one of the most important things you can do. How else can you (or your students) tell if the class is serving its purpose?

You probably also know the best way to determine that is through a test. Or maybe it’s through a quiz — or maybe an exam. What’s the difference? Is there a difference?

The short answer is they’re essentially the same — but different. Confused? These words are often used interchangeably, but in an educational setting, they refer to different forms of evaluation.

Let’s explore the differences between a quiz and a test (and an exam) by looking at the format, purpose, and length of each. When we’re done, you’ll know how and when to use each one to design your course and assess your students.

General implications of quiz vs test vs exam

Of the three formats we’re defining, “test” is the most generic term and has the broadest application. Outside of an academic setting, you might have a blood test, an eye test, or a driving test. You might test something to see if it works.

Quizzes and exams are forms of tests. “Quiz” often implies a short or informal test, such as an unscheduled quiz (a pop quiz). Sometimes people even participate in quizzes for fun. Think of a pub quiz or a quiz show on TV. An exam has a more formal connotation, and you typically only see this in an academic setting. As a shortened form of “examination,” it implies a deeper and more final assessment.

While there is no formal standard, in an academic setting, these terms often refer to a hierarchy of evaluations — with a quiz as the most casual, an exam as the most serious, and a test somewhere in between.

What is a quiz?

A quiz is the shortest, most common, and most casual form of evaluation.

Purpose and scoring. In a course setting, instructors most frequently give quizzes, which serve as a way for both teachers and students to see how well students understand the material. Quizzes help everyone focus on weak areas. A quiz covers a small amount of material, such as one lesson, page, or concept. Quizzes help keep students engaged and prepare them for tests, as well. Scores may or may not factor into the student’s overall course grade. If they do, they typically account for a much smaller percentage than tests or exams.

Format. Formats for quiz questions typically include fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, and true or false. Quizzes don’t usually include interpretive, open-ended questions, such as essay questions.

Length. Quizzes are shorter than tests. Whereas a test may have 50 questions or more, a quiz typically has 10 or fewer questions.

What is a test?

A test is the standard evaluation technique used to determine grades in both high school and college classes. Tests are longer than quizzes. Some instructors assign grades based exclusively on test scores.

Purpose and scoring. A test covers a larger chunk of the course material than a quiz — usually a whole unit or section. Test scores are usually an important factor in determining a student’s final course grade.

Format. The types of questions on tests vary more than those on quizzes. Like a quiz, they often include multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and true or false questions, but they usually also have open-ended questions, such as essays or short-answer questions that ask the student to explain a concept in their own words. There may even be image-based or listing and matching questions.

Length. Tests are longer than quizzes and typically have 40 to 50 questions or more.

What is an exam?

Like quizzes and tests, an exam is a tool to measure your students’ mastery of the course content, but it has weightier consequences. An exam is more formal in nature and often can determine whether a student passes or fails a class or course (as such, it may be given on a pass/fail basis). If the student fails the exam, they usually have to retake the exam or retake the entire course.

The difference between a test and an exam can be a little blurry, as some courses combine the two. Exams typically cover the entire course material. The format and length of an exam is similar to a test, but it is generally longer and more comprehensive. A mid-term or similar test may be referred to as an exam, since it occurs at a set interval and is a major factor in the final course grade.

Now that you know the difference between a quiz, a test, and an exam, you can plan your course assessments to best serve your students. When it’s time to create your evaluations, use JotForm’s free, online quiz templates. These templates make it easy to build custom quizzes that you can embed into a website or share with a link — and your JotForm account securely stores all responses, which you can easily access on any device.

This article is originally published on Aug 03, 2020, and updated on Aug 18, 2020.
Teacher, sister, mother and ass-kicker. Experienced teacher with a digital twist. Outside the classroom? She lives on the dojo.

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