Mac Lab Report

StarQuiz Review

- 2002.10.24

Last year I used a free online test system called QuizLab to give electronic tests and quizzes.

QuizLab has a number of good features, but suffice to say I swore I would never use it again for anything other than practice quizzes. Two sincere attempts to use it in my classroom lab environment were nothing short of disasters because of dropped connections, suspended quizzes, incomplete submissions, and so on.

To be fair, our network was a mess last year; district technicians and contractors spent the summer rewiring the network. The latest from QuizLab is that they've discovered spam; I get two or three solicitations a day masquerading as quiz results from students. This is because QuizLab is no longer free, and I'm not willing to pay for a service I can't rely upon.

Looking for another solution, I searched the Apple Made 4 Mac page for quiz handling software, and that led me to StarQuiz. Bye bye, QuizLab!

As far as the network goes, the good news is that AppleTalk now works, but the bad news is that random ports have been left unconnected.

StarQuiz is a stand-alone quiz writing program for OS 9 and X. Both versions are available for a free 30-day trial period, and I have tested it in preparation for classes this fall. StarQuiz lets you write multiple choice questions and administer them on a single machine or over a network using the free StarQuiz Netclient. Results are stored in a separate file on the host machine.

StarQuiz was written in REALbasic. I tested the standalone and network functions on both OS 9 and X machines, using an OS 9 machine as a client, and everything worked during quiz setup and administration.

StarQuiz can export quizzes to a stripped text format called "Quizzler format," which is apparently an earlier version of the program that did not protect the quiz files from prying eyes. That's an important function if you need to have a paper copy of a quiz in case the network is down.

One advantage of StarQuiz has over QuizLab and most other task-bank software is that it allows you to insert graphics to be displayed alongside the question. The lack of this function has driven me from more than one package in the past.

Another powerful feature of StarQuiz is that it gives you detailed information about item statistics - how many people missed item x, for example - which QuizLab, in its free form, never addressed adequately. The paid version of QuizLab was advertised as giving you more statistics, but in the free trial version those statistics were only given for the top five missed questions or so. StarQuiz provides numerical data and histograms to help you interpret test results. Individual student results, average results, and results by item can be generated, all of which is useful information.

StarQuiz also has an open response function that you can go back and score manually after the quizzes are submitted on the network.

There are only a few features missing from StarQuiz to make it a truly outstanding package - and it has the potential to be a great piece of software indispensable for "Power Teachers" who are up to speed on technology and standards.

First, the selection of four choices is limiting. I would rather see a set of five choices, with the option to use less. Second, when the test is randomized, only the question order is changed instead of the answer order. Both characteristics should be randomized to prevent cheating. Third, you cannot import or export questions from previous quizzes; instead you must manually edit every question for every quiz. Task bank software that comes from textbook vendors usually lets you construct quizzes from banks of items, and StarQuiz would benefit greatly from this approach.

Still, if you have a classroom network, StarQuiz can be a useful tool. I intend to register and pay for my copy if I can get one more problem solved.

The only real operational problem I had with StarQuiz was that after administering a quiz on a host machine running OS 9 with multiple users on, the computer invariably freezes when attempting to quit StarQuiz. Doing a three-fingered restart has recovered every time, but that's not a characteristic you want to fight with on a regular basis. Also, the resolution of the screen is changed, icons are misplaced, and all the associated annoyance that brings with it. The same behavior did not occur on an OS 9 machine without multiple users enabled, so I am sure that interaction is causing the effect.

If the folks at Cosmicsoft want to turn StarQuiz from a good product to a great one, they should also allow for some kind of connection to state and national standards. At least an empty field, at best a link to an external database of standards - which wouldn't be as much work as it sounds, even for all 50 states, compared to writing a long and complex piece of software.

I'm still searching for a QuizLab replacement, so if you have a favorite, let me know.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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