I am TA-ing for a college class of general physics with currently ~60 enrolled students. We initially (at the beginning of each semester) give them the FCI test ("force concept inventory") that gauges their knowledge/intuition of forces and underlying Newton's laws, and then we repeatedly issue the test at the end of the semester to gain some statistics of how much they learned during the class. The goal is to have some standardized test that probes the gain of knowledge during the semester, so judging just by the final or midterm is not possible (as those cover different topics in physics each time). The test is usually not incentivized by any points or grade at the beginning of the class, so the incentive to take it at the end is a question we face every time.

They know this test doesn't contribute to their grades, so not anyone might feel compelled to take it (this is somewhat similar to the course evaluations). However, for the statistics to be accurate, all those still enrolled should take it. Consider:

  • if only a part of the class takes the test, the statistics might be skewed
  • if only students who feel strong in physics take it, this would skew the test upward
  • if only those who are weaker in physics take it, it skewes the results downward

We might need to somehow incentivize taking this test, but all solutions that initially seem like a no-brainer, might create a new problem:

  • providing small amount of bonus points toward the final grade for participation might incentivize it to students who are doing bad in the class, while those who are doing great (well within the range to get an A) might decide to pass, thus removing the best outliers and skewing the results downward

  • providing small amount of bonus points just for the participation might make people take it, but not take it seriously, i.e. totally invalidating the results of the test

  • I thought of maybe issuing the test during a normal class time, but this seems to me like cheating the students into taking it

  • appealing by our needs to get this important statistics that will help the future students yada yada, can motivate better students into it, but maybe the most disgruntled, overwhelmed and/or tired students might just decide to skip it, skewing the statistics upward.

What should be the wording of an announcement reminding them of this test to get most of the students to take it while not make anyone feel like it's okay to skip it or not take it seriously?

  • 1
    Is there really no benefit for the students? I.e. won't you adjust teaching on their level or offer some lessons to repeat topics you found the students were bad in this test? If so, you could explicity tell them about their benefits - imo this would make doing the test during class time okay
    – user111388
    Nov 20, 2020 at 17:38
  • Also, in my experience, if the test is at semester's beginning, good people will take it anyway for bonus points (they dont know yet if they are really good, how strict you grade etc.)
    – user111388
    Nov 20, 2020 at 17:40
  • Usually everyone takes it at the beginning of the semester, I guess people are more motivated at the beginning of the course. These students won't benefit in any way from it, I'm afraid. It's not like they'd be taking the same course over and over again :) We certainly say something about the importance of the test at the beginning of the course, but I'd have to be very optimistic to expect anyone to remember that at the end of the semester.
    – user16320
    Nov 20, 2020 at 17:45
  • As an extreme measure you could just require it. "If you don't take it, you don't get a grade for the course." Of course, this is the "sticks" but no "carrots" solution, whereas the answer of Azor Ahai suggests carrots.
    – Buffy
    Nov 20, 2020 at 21:51
  • I think the "sticks" solution you're suggesting would be frowned upon by the university actually...it's pandemic, people are stressed and tense as is, without such measures :)
    – user16320
    Nov 21, 2020 at 0:35

1 Answer 1


I have always seen this done not by issuing bonus points, but by issuing required points for taking the test, e.g. taking each test is work 5% of your grade. The poor students will do it for the free points, and the good students will do it to keep their grade up.

Don't be too focused on "statistical validity." You're trying to reflect on your teaching, not publish a paper. You can look at who took the test(s) and how well they did, whether there was a bias in who self-selected. After all if the strongest students went from 0.8 to 0.95 on how good they were, there is not much room to examine your teaching: a ceiling effect. You will find room for improvement in whether you are helping the weaker students effectively. They will respond for bonus points.

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    This is something to maybe try the next semester, when the rules are set from the beginning. This is not an option at this point, unfortunately :)
    – user16320
    Nov 20, 2020 at 17:46
  • @user16320 Ah, then you might put that in the question. So some have taken the test, and others haven't? Nov 20, 2020 at 17:49
  • Well, I assume that now it's the time when the Fall semester is approaching its end in the majority of the universities across the world, so I thought it would be obvious that it's the "end of the semester" part of the question we're talking about :) my bad, will make it clear in my question. (I just realized that in Australia, people don't call this season "Fall", but rather "Spring")
    – user16320
    Nov 20, 2020 at 17:53
  • @user16320 No, I thought you meant "We did it poorly this sem, how to improve it for next" Nov 20, 2020 at 21:33
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    @user16320 Yeah, Semester 1 usually starts in late February. Our academic years and calendar years are aligned, rather than the weird thing where America has the academic year start half way through the year and then wrap over to the next calendar year.
    – nick012000
    Nov 21, 2020 at 19:03

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