Behind the Scenes: Creating Quizzes for Accelerated Reader

By Kerry McGuire, Assistant Editor

Behind the scenes: Creating quizzes for Accelerated ReaderIntroduced by Cecelia Powell, Managing Editor

Every school day, children from all around the world are being inspired to read using Renaissance Accelerated Reader. In schools from Brazil to Dubai, from South Korea to the Seychelles, from Scotland to China, AR quizzes and practice activities are being used to assess reading comprehension.

Here in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, students took more than 100,000 Accelerated Reader Reading Practice quizzes each 2019 school day. Exactly 23,660,983 quizzes were taken over the course of the 2018-2019 academic year. And in 2019, our small UK team added 2,630 quizzes to the system of over 38,000 RP quizzes that pupils can now choose from.

But have you ever wondered any of the following questions: Just how are those quizzes created? How does Renaissance ensure that those quizzes are psychometrically sound, valid and reliable assessments of reading practice? Why does it sometimes take so long for a quiz to appear?

In this blog, Assistant Editor Kerry McGuire will answer those questions by following a book’s journey through the UK’s Content Department. You will learn exactly what goes into producing a quiz, from selecting the book right through to the time the quiz is published and goes live on the system. We’ve chosen a book at random, The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. We hope its journey to being quizzed will help educators and children alike to better understand the process.

Selecting the books

You may be surprised to learn that quiz writing isn’t the only job our team do. We all do a variety of different tasks in the office to help manage our books and quizzes. One of them is researching and ordering books!

A publisher highlights The Deathless Girls to us and, after reading about it, we think it sounds right up our street! So we begin considering whether we can quiz it.

Sophie, our Publisher Liaison Executive, does some research into the quiz-usage figures of the author’s previous books. It turns out that Kiran’s other books are really popular with AR users, so this is a great start! Then, looking on our quiz suggestion programme, Sophie sees that a couple of schools have already submitted requests for us to quiz the book. At this point, it’s time for her to contact the publisher Hachette to order the book.

Some of the other things we consider when selecting books to quiz include best-of lists, award winners and books that support National Curriculum topics.


Processing work

Yay! A box of books has been delivered, and in it are 2 copies of The Deathless Girls.  But before we can start writing the quiz, some important processing work needs to be done. (After we’ve finished swooning over the book’s cover, of course!)

One of the team – normally Lee, he does the majority of our processing work – enters the book onto our management system; a database with records of every book we’ve ever considered. One copy of the book is then fed through a machine which scans the whole text, character by character, to create a digital copy of it.  Next, Lee reads through the whole digital file with an extremely keen eye, comparing it to the hard copy and correcting any differences. He runs it through the ATOS analyser software, and voila, we have the ATOS level for the book!

The processed book, complete with sticker and paperwork, can now be added to the shelf of books that are patiently waiting to be assigned to a quiz writer.



 The quizzing and editing stages

It’s a couple of weeks later, and our editorial team have a Monday morning meeting. We discuss which books will be assigned to writers this week. Now that it’s reached the top ten customer requests, The Deathless Girls is one of them. We pick which writer will be best suited to the book.

Now the fun part starts! The next day, our writer and editor Krista works from home so she can read and quiz the book. She takes notes throughout her read, then picks out the ten most memorable plot points and writes questions on them. Writing a quiz is not as easy as it sounds. Planning is really important.

There’s so much to take into consideration, like writing “distractor” answers that are plausible to the world of the story but are still totally wrong. Plus, we writers mustn’t ask questions that can be answered by the book’s blurb or cover images – this can be harder than it sounds! This is the stage where the Interest Level is decided, too. There’s violence and some sexual content, so Krista marks it down as Upper Years.

When Krista’s back in the office, her quiz and the book will be passed on to another quiz writer or editor for a second read-through and perspective. Every quiz on Accelerated Reader has been read fully by at least two of the team. So now it’s Peter’s turn to read the book!

Afterwards, he takes Krista’s quiz himself in a draft format (the same way an AR user does) and writes comments about what he thinks can be improved. He might point out any questions he didn’t find memorable, or anything in the quiz that an editor who hasn’t read the book might not pick up. His “evaluation” of Krista’s quiz is then passed on to an editor.

If the book in question is short, like a picture book, the first editor (in this case, that’s Cecelia) would read the book again at this point. But, as The Deathless Girls is long, Cecelia just reads the necessary pages now, using Peter’s evaluation. As well as looking for any factual errors (like wrong names), she is checking that the questions all come from important plot points, that there is nothing confusing, that the wording is clear and not too easy or difficult for the level of the book and that there are no grammatical errors. She covers the quiz in red pen, making the necessary changes. With first edits, our editors often return the quiz to the writer and ask them to make certain changes, which will then have to be approved before the quiz can move on to the next stage.

OK! So the quiz is now back on the shelf after having had its first edit. Later that day, Laura picks it up and makes more changes for the quiz’s second edit. At this point she’s mainly checking to make sure that changes have been taken in correctly, that any new question doesn’t give a clue to subsequent question answers and looking for anything that stands out to someone who hasn’t read the text (aka non-readers or pupils trying to guess the answers). It’s amazing what a fresh pair of eyes can spot!

Publishing day

It’s Tuesday, which means it’s quiz publishing day in the office! It’s normally a full house for the Content team on Tuesdays. There are books flying around left, right and centre. Everyone has their heads down doing various edits. This is the day we complete the final editing stages – the third edit followed by a final quality check.

By the time we hit “publish” on The Deathless Girls, the quiz has been seen by the majority of the team. The next morning, the quiz is live on the website ready to be taken by children all over the UK and Ireland, and by Thursday (today!) it will appear on AR Bookfinder.

The Deathless Girls can be found with Quiz # 237463

Further info

We work hard to make sure that AR quizzes do the job they are supposed to do. We hope this helps you to understand the time and effort that goes into creating one. Now you might have questions that haven’t been answered here or you might want more detail about something in particular. If so, maybe one of these blogs can help you:

What makes a book non-quizzable?

Why can’t quizzes be made available straight away?

What are AR book levels?

Why do some book levels seem anomalous?

Why are there books on AR with adult content?


Kerry McGuire
Assistant Editor

Posted on 30 January 2020 at 11:20 am
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