Scared of Quizzes?

Categories: Interventions | Resources

One of my students has developed a new fear recently. This isn’t your typical autism fear. He’s not afraid of fire drills or anxious when it thunderstorms. He has a fear that dare I say… I am a little proud of. I really hate to admit it but I would go as far to say – I am happy he is afraid of this. This fear demonstrates that grades are reinforcing to him. Not just praise – but grades. Good grades. This kid wants good grades so badly – he is afraid to take a quiz for fear of a less than stellar score. So okay the outcome isn’t ideal. But we will get there. I am just so proud of him. Many kids in the general ed are not motivated by grades – but my guy? He wants straight A’s.

We started working on grades a few years ago. My kids don’t get typical report cards – they get IEP Progress Reports. But I still think grades are important to learn about because it is a more naturally occurring reinforcer. And just like we need to condition praise as a reinforcer for many of our students – we also need to condition grades as a reinforcer. We use grades for our daily binder page and vocabulary/spelling quizzes.

The conditioning worked but as always – there was a nasty backlash I didn’t anticipate. My one student now hates quizzes. A bunch of new behaviors popping up each week for our vocabulary quiz – hiding the break area, refusing to sit at the table, fingers in his ears while I talk to him, yelling. Sigh. Teenagers.

My initial thought was to stop calling quizzes ‘quizzes’ and call them an activity or game or something. But you know what? I’m mean. I want him to get over it. Sometimes in life we do things we don’t like. The word DMV makes me shutter because I truly hate going there. Sure someone could probably trick me once (maybe twice…) by luring my to the super fun drivers club. But pretty soon I would realize the trick. Not using the word quiz would be a short term solution.


My other options were either providing punishment for refusal to participate in the quiz or providing higher magnitude reinforcement for participating than the reinforcement of escaping the quiz. I am doing a combo of both.

  • To start off – I am providing him the option of ‘taking a break’ while I give the quiz to the rest of the group. Now most people would immediately point out that I am reinforcing his behavior by allowing him to escape. And yes – momentarily I am. But this is one of those moments when you need to look at the big picture. Disruptive is understatement to explain this student’s behavior lately during quiz time – and now I expect get an accurate assessment from 5 other students. Yea right. So I do their quizzes first. 
  • I let the other students break off into their rotations and then do the quiz one on one with the other student. Again he is maybe getting some extra attention here – but it’s unavoidable.
  • If he engages in any inappropriate behavior – I have been using the 3-strike to time out visual. He is high functioning so this may seem too “low” or “easy” for him – but when a student is nearing meltdown zone – I always lean on the side of extra visuals and minimal language. time out
  • I normally wouldn’t recommend time out in this situation because it is an escape behavior but time out seems to be very aversive for him so we are using it. And as long as he still has to take the quiz – he is not succeeding in escaping.
  • Every answer he writes gets loads of praise.
  • During this challenging time – I have purposefully selected some easy vocabulary words and made sure to have tons of practice. This student is super smart and really usually gets a 100% on quizzes – so I am not sure when this quiz thing started.
  • We won’t stay in easy/tons of praise land forever. Once his behaviors decrease, I will start to increase the complexity of the work and decrease the amount of praise given – gradually.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *