How to motivate students to read prior to class: RATS!

Author: Catherine Corrigan Lecturer School of Nursing and Human Sciences


Getting students to come to class prepared can be a challenge!

One way to encourage engagement with pre-reading activities is the use of Readiness Assessment Tests (RATs). I have been using RATs over the past 6 years and can attest that this method really works, albeit attaching a grade to the activity, which is always a good motivator.

RATs are short (10 question) quizzes that test the students’ knowledge about the assigned readings1. The items can be multiple-choice questions (MCQs), open-ended items, or a combination of the two. The questions are written at the remembering and understanding levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and are taken directly from the assigned pre-readings.


Frequent quizzes increase the likelihood that students will read prior to class1 and RATs are ideal to motivate this activity. A small percentage (2%) of the final grade can be awarded towards each RAT, meaning that a total of 10 – 12% can become part of the final evaluation, although as much as 60% has been awarded for the 10-item quizzes2.

Use RATs in class or online
RATs can be administered face-to-face or online, synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous RAT administration requires that the instructor display each item for an allotted time (typically 1.5 minutes), with the advantage of the computer automatically calculating the score and including it in the grade centre. Asynchronous online RAT items are written at the more difficult application and analyses levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, because the students 1) are allowed to use their resources and 2) are provided more than one attempt to take the RAT. Instructors can allow up to three attempts for an asynchronous online RAT – this process provides students the opportunity to increase their score. Most platforms such as Moodle and Blackboard can be set up to either accept the most recent score or accept the highest score, to facilitate instructor preference. The questions can include short essay questions that ask the student to explain the meaning of a topic in their own words for instance, as well as some MCQs and/or open-ended items. The student can access the assigned reading material up to three times, meaning that reviewing and revision is occurring, facilitating the development of declarative knowledge3.

Individual RATs and group RATs
When the student has completed their individual RAT (iRAT), they join a (pre-assigned) group to complete the same 10 questions in a group RAT (gRAT) in less time (1 minute per item). The gRAT provides the opportunity for students to accrue extra points; if they are successful in their iRAT, they are awarded the average of the two scores (iRAT and gRAT); however they can only get the benefit of the gRAT score if they ‘pass’ their iRAT, meaning that students cannot ‘pass’ an iRAT on the addition of the group score. If the gRAT score is less than the iRAT score, students get to keep their higher score. The objective of the gRAT is to facilitate another exposure to the material within a short space of time, as well as the learning that occurs through students’ discussing the RAT items, such as providing rationale for why they chose one answer over another. Scratch and win multiple choice cards4 (similar to lottery scratch off tickets) can be used for the gRAT, where students can get immediate feedback on which answer was ‘starred’ correct. An alternate method of review is displaying the questions for the class and discussing each question’s answer as a learning opportunity, in particular by discussing the MCQ distractors as well. Frequent assessment and feedback helps students learn1 moreover timely feedback is paramount to the learning process.

The use of resources
It is up to the discretion of the instructor whether to allow the students to use notes for their face-to-face iRAT. The objective of allowing notes during the iRAT is not to make the test easier, rather to encourage students to read and take hand-written notes (not typed) prior to coming to class. Additionally, allowing the use of notes reduces the pressure of test taking. Pre-reading, note taking, iRATs, gRATs and an in-class review follows Marzano’s recommended four exposures to new material3 to facilitate learning.

Try it!
There are lots of advantages besides encouraging pre-reading! Unannounced quizzes motivate students to read prior to all classes because the quiz scores effects their grade5. For instance, RATs can be administered at the start of class sharp (to encourage timely attendance at a face-to-face or synchronous online webinar), anytime during class (to energise a fading group of students), or on any given day of class throughout the module. Avoid letting students know what day and at what time RATs will be administered – this practice encourages students to read prior to every class, attend class and be on time.

Online RATs completed prior to class provide data for the instructor that can be helpful for class preparation with an emphasis on areas that the students are finding challenging6. Face-to-face RATs can also be used as a means of formative assessment and the instructor can use the data on challenging concepts to prepare for future classes.


  1. Weinstein, S. and Wu, S. 2009. Readiness assessment tests verses frequent quizzes: Student performance, International Journal of Teaching and Learning In Higher Education, 21(2), pp. 181-186.
  2. Critz, C. and Knight, D. 2013. Using the flipped classroom in graduate nursing education, Nurse Educator, 38(5), pp. 210-213.
  3. Marzano, R. 2007. Art and Science of Teaching. Virginia: ASCD.
  4. Sibley, J. 2013. Team Cohesion-Readiness Assurance Process. Available at: (Accessed: 11 April 2016).
  5. Vandsburger, E. and Duncan-Datson, R. 2011. Evaluating the study guide as a tool for increasing students’ accountability for reading the textbook. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 42(1), pp. 6-23.
  6. Heiner, C., Banet, A., and Wieman, C. 2014. Preparing students for class: How to get 80% of students reading the textbook before class. American Journal of Physics, 82(10). pp. 989- 996.

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