Behind the Scenes: Creating Quizzes for Accelerated Reader

By Kerry McGuire

Have you ever wondered about the work that goes into adding a quiz to Accelerated Reader? Read on for a behind-the-scenes peek into the world of the Content team and follow the new book, Happy Here: 10 Stories from Black British Authors & Illustrators, from the time the book is published to when its quiz goes live, ready for students to take.

 

An introduction from our Managing Editor, Cecelia Powell

Today, children all around the world will be sitting down to take an Accelerated Reader quiz. And wherever AR is, children are reading and quizzing! We’re operational from the US and Latin America to South Korea and the Seychelles… and, of course, here in the UK!

I was part of the first UK Accelerated Reader quiz-writing team, and it has been a pleasure and a privilege to watch and be a part of Renaissance’s growth both within the UK and now globally, but I have never been prouder of Renaissance than over the last 18 months.

Each of us in the Content Department walked out of the office in March 2020 with a backpack full of books and our laptops, expecting to return in a few weeks. Lockdown! Who could have anticipated the length of the COVID-19 pandemic? With Renaissance allowing schools to administer Accelerated Reader remotely, we had to develop new ways to work from home and convince publishers to send us PDFs of their books to level and quiz from. Well, we did it! We miss turning the pages of those beautiful hard copies of books, but we have managed to keep those quizzes rolling out, to the same high standards needed of a valid assessment tool.

We did a lot more than changing our day-to-day methods of working during those lockdowns. We developed Content Appropriateness Guidelines for Accelerated Reader to ensure that our content grows in diversity, inclusion and equitability for all learners. We reached out to smaller, more diverse publishers to add more rounded content, to stay true to our mission to accelerate learning for all. Between January and September 2021, we published 1,404 new quizzes, 25% of which contain DEI content, featuring characters and themes representing various ethnic and cultural backgrounds, the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities. Happy Here is one of those titles. So sit back and let Kerry take you on its journey to having an Accelerated Reader quiz.


Title Selection

It’s a Friday afternoon and some of the Content team are using their time to research new titles for Accelerated Reader. We come across Happy Here from Knights Of and right away know it’s something we must get our hands on!

When members of the team choose titles we want for our program, we consider several factors. We prioritise titles that:

  • have a high number of customer requests
  • feature on respected book awards lists
  • reflect topics that are on the national curriculum
  • are written by popular authors
  • represent “diversity” with their content or author

We also take advice from our publisher contacts, who send us lists of their priority titles and bestsellers. And we keep our eyes peeled for new and exciting books that we know will resonate with children.

Each member of the team has their own list of publishers they have relationships with, so we send an email to Knights Of and kindly ask our contact there to send us a copy of the PDF for Happy Here as soon as it’s available.


Processing the book

Ping! A few weeks later, a team member receives a link to download the PDF for Happy Here. But before we can start writing the quiz, there’s quite a bit of work that needs to be done.

First, our Senior Content Assistant, Lee, adds the titles to our CMS system along with all of its details. Next, he copies the text from the PDF into a Word document and begins the task of formatting it in a way the ATOS Analyser will recognise. This is a finicky process and can be very time consuming with books such as graphic novels, where the text often has to be typed out by hand.

Once the text is ready, Lee runs it through our ATOS Analyser, and Happy Here now has a level – it’s 4.7. The ATOS for text readability formula is based on three key predictors of text complexity: word difficulty, word length and sentence length.

The analyser also tells us that students who pass this quiz will receive 7 points. This is based primarily on the book’s length.

A member of the team decides how many questions the quiz will be, gives it a quiz number and then adds it to the Virtual Assigning Shelf, where titles waiting to be quiz all live!


Assigning the quiz

It’s Monday morning and the team are all here at our team Zoom meeting. We really miss doing these in person!

We’ve made a list of all the quizzes that will be written this week and use this time to assign them to different quiz writers depending on what everyone’s week looks like.

 

We all have certain genres we like quizzing on, and everyone has their speciality! Sarah, for example, is amazing at 3-question quizzes, and Peter will usually grab historical fiction.

We’ve just heard the news that BookTrust is giving a copy of Happy Here to every school in England. We are delighted and know that now is the time to get this quiz written!

Often when there’s a brilliant book like this one, we will flip a coin to see who gets to quiz it! Krista wins the coin toss this time, so will be factoring Happy Here into her workload for the week.

As well as quiz writing and editing, we all have various other tasks to keep us busy including research, quiz admin, blog writing, liaising with publishers, being active on social media, tracking quiz usage, localising quizzes by the US team, and attending training and meetings.


Writing the quiz

It’s now Wednesday, and Krista sits down with her Kindle and a coffee and begins reading Happy Here. This is everyone’s favourite part of the job! Krista makes notes of all the key points as she reads. Afterwards, she picks the ten most memorable points to base her quiz questions on.

The quiz is meant to be a simple comprehension test that anybody who has read and understood the text will be able to pass easily.

It might sound easy, but our quiz writers follow a strict set of rules to ensure our product is a true test of comprehension.

We must confirm that the answers are not guessable to a non-reader of the book, so we can’t ask anything that is given away by the back-of-the-book blurb, or the pictures inside. We also write the quiz questions at the same ATOS level as the book itself, and we follow sensitivity and bias guidelines too. oh, and did I mention that everything we write has to fit into a 76-character count?!

 

The Editing Process

Later that week, Liz spots that Krista has added Happy Here to our Virtual Edit shelf, so puts her initials next to it and takes it for its first edit.

Now it’s Liz’s turn to sit back and read the book! Every title we quiz has been read by at least two members of the team. This helps us hold ourselves accountable for producing high-quality quizzes.

When Liz has read it, she takes the quiz herself online, the same way a student would, and checks that she can pass with 100%. Then she begins editing the PDF of the quiz. She checks that all the questions are from major plot points and accurately represent the text. No inference allowed! She looks for things like incorrect responses that are too close to true, questions that could give away subsequent answers in the quiz and eliminates anything that could confuse the true reader. She makes any changes she sees necessary, along with notes for the next editor.

After Liz is finished, a second edit is done. This time Laura takes a look at the quiz from a different perspective – without having read the book. She checks to see that all first edit changes have been taken in and that the quiz contains nothing that could point the non-reader in the right direction.

Finally, there is the third edit. This is a quality check where the editor reads over the quiz, double-checking the names of characters, places and all proper nouns to ensure that everything is perfect.


Publishing day

Tuesday is here, and that means publishing day for us in Content!

Everyone works hard all day, first, second and third editing, and finally, Peter hits the PUBLISH button on Happy Here! This means that tomorrow, school children will be able to type in #241043, take the quiz and earn some points, and on Thursday it will appear on Bookfind for everyone to see.

At the end of the month, we publish our Monthly Approvals list for schools to download, detailing all titles (about 170 per month) that are new to AR. Then teachers and librarians can label their books accordingly and begin the process again by requesting any new titles they want quizzed!

Find out more

Follow Cecelia Powell and the team on Twitter @CeceliaRenLearn

Check out the Books & Quizzes blog for monthly booklists

See the latest AR quizzes on our Monthly Quiz List

Search through the 39,000+ books on AR BookFind

Learn about the CLPE and BookTrust’s giveaway of Happy Here

More Frequently Asked Questions about Accelerated Reader

 


Posted on 14 October 2021 at 1:42 pm
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