Beyond Formative Assessment: Exit Tickets Led Me in the Right Direction

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In an online teaching and learning environment, exit tickets can provide students with a needed sense of ritual and community and reassure them that someone is looking out for them and their learning.

exit sign blurred as if in motion
Credit: Vincenzofoto / © 2020

"Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else."

―Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

When I think about my fall 2019 classes, nostalgia creeps in. Faces were visible, tables were round, textbooks were paper, and phones were in backpacks. My students had one choice for how to attend class, and I had control of the technology we used. Although I consider myself a technological innovator, have taught online classes for years, and am always looking for the next best thing in instructional design, my favorite days were those when my students and I would go old school and get out the sticky-backed poster paper and bins of scented markers. We all took unmasked huffs of the familiar blueberry-, watermelon-, and apple-scented ink. In groups, we discussed new concepts, made connections, and then created and shared our glorious posters. My engaged, metacognitively aware students never hesitated to ask specific, higher-order questions while forming connections with each other and their coursework. Then, at the end of class, with their brightly decorated posters waving in the background like guests at a wedding send-off, students would leave the classroom, their singsong calls of "Bye, Dr. Kenner" exiting with them.

Online Synchronous Teaching

Ahem . . . Perhaps I am not remembering exactly how each class day was pre-pandemic. Maybe my memories are a bit skewed by new challenges and long hours spent planning the delivery of my current online synchronous classes. I may not have always been the absolute embodiment of Maria Montessori and John Dewey's love child, but I did have a lot of great days teaching face-to-face. And this semester, after some rough early days, I am finally starting to have some really good days teaching online synchronous classes. The sounds of "Bye, Dr. Kenner" have returned—even in classes where I've never seen some of my students' faces because cameras are not required. I would like to share some things that are working for me in the hopes that they help you, too.

Exit Tickets: Reimagined

One of the most successful techniques I have used with my online synchronous classes is a classic teaching tool and something I had never used before: exit tickets. Cleverly described as a way to check to see if students have "caught what you taught," exit tickets have long been used in the classroom. Considered a formative assessment, exit tickets are low-point value, low-stress transitional activities that allow both professors and students to check and adjust teaching and learning as needed.

Within my class, I use an exit ticket every day at the end of class. It is always a one-item password-protected quiz item in the course-management system. My exit tickets have included multiple-choice, true/false, or essay questions. Students receive the password when there are a couple of minutes left in class. The directions are always to enter the password, complete the exit ticket, turn on their microphone, say goodbye, and then log off.

The saying goodbye requirement is not really enforced with grades, but it has become the culture of the class. Not everyone does it, but many do. I don't require cameras to be on, so for me, hearing a lot of students' voices saying a cheerful goodbye has become one of the nicest parts of the class. Since their microphones are on, many students will also use the opportunity to ask me a question about the course or something else that is on their mind.

Every day's exit ticket is worth one point. Everyone gets the point for taking it, and the points are listed in the grade book, as attendance is worth 10 percent of a student's grade. So far, students are not coming in at the end of class just to complete the exit ticket, but if that were a problem, I could give it at different times during class and label it as an attendance ticket.

The questions I write are designed to encourage metacognitive thought, provide students with information, help me improve my instruction, or to have fun. Here are some of the questions I have asked so far in the exit tickets. These questions are for an academic literacies course and a power reading course, so they are tailored to that content. Sometimes students get automatized responses that I have preprogrammed into the quiz, and sometimes students get individualized follow-ups, which I detail in the second column.

Exit Ticket Question Additional Information

Overall, how are things going for you with your classes and your transition to the university?

Asked on day one of an Academic Literacies class. Will be used for final exam essay. Immediate concerns were addressed either in the comments of the feedback or in emails.

What does an effective academic reader do? Are you an effective academic reader? Why or why not?

Asked on day one of Academic Reading class. Will be used for final essay.

Should professors require students to keep their cameras turned on during Zoom classes?

Used the next day as part of the classroom discussion on engagement and equity.

What grade do you think you will get in this class?

Used after the discussion on metacognition. Will also check at the end of the semester for a research project. Students who expressed concerns about low grades were contacted.

Describe the textbooks for your classes this semester.

  • I have not bought my other class textbooks yet.
  • Most of my class textbooks are electronic, online books.
  • Most of my class textbooks are touchable, old-school paper books.
  • I have a combination of online and paper textbooks.
  • My other classes do not require textbooks, or I am only taking this class.

Used for my Power Reading course. I was surprised that many of my students have e-books only. This changed my curriculum to include more with e-books.

Are you having trouble keeping track of and/or remembering to complete your assignments in Coll 110 and your other courses? Or are you concerned that you might start to have trouble with this?

Students who said they were having trouble were contacted and had one-on-one appointments with a graduate assistant who specializes in time management.

I am earning the grades I deserve.

A few students said no, so I reached out to them.

Was working in pairs on Zoom today an enjoyable experience for you? Why or why not?

This was the first time students were in breakout rooms.

Here is some voter registration information for you:

As a college student in Minnesota, you can vote by absentee ballot in your home district or you can vote in person in St. Cloud, even if you live in the residence halls. You can even vote absentee by mail if you live in the residence halls if you meet the other voting eligibility requirements.

I am not going to ask you confidential information about voting, so your exit ticket question is about the weather!

  • I am glad it is colder outside.
  • I wish it was still warm outside.


If there is an assignment I missed or something I do not understand, and my professors do not use email as their preferred communication or seem to be missing my email messages, I will speak to them during their office hours.

Students who disagreed were contacted.


Today's time-management mini-lesson on using the Outlook calendar was helpful.

  • True
  • False

I showed students how the calendar in our learning management system can be integrated with their Microsoft Outlook calendar.

Write and answer your own exit-ticket question today. Make it really good, please!

This is by far my favorite exit-ticket question. Some asked and answered questions about what we covered in class, others used it as a chance to tell me about problems they were having, and others used it for a completely random piece of information. The following response is my favorite: "What are the words to the Spanish national anthem? A: It has no words!"

I often send email reminders when assignments are due. Do you think I should continue to send email reminders, or do you think it is better for professors to give an assignment and let students handle it?

  • Send email reminders.
  • Let students handle it.

One-hundred-percent of the respondents said I should send reminders.

Tell me about today's group work.

This was a last-minute question that I added instead of the one I had originally planned to ask on a day when I did not feel like the group work in the breakout rooms was going well and I wanted to get students' perspectives.

Which statement do you believe is true for you? This is assuming there is still a pandemic, but if your classes met in person with social distancing, masks, etc.

  • My grades would be better this semester if all my classes met in person.
  • My grades would be the same this semester if all my classes met in person.
  • My grades would be worse this semester if all my classes met in person.

About 70 percent said that being online had not affected their grade.


I initially developed exit tickets for my online synchronous classes because I wanted an uncomplicated way to take attendance and have students say goodbye to me. Now, though, they have become more than that. Exit tickets have also given students a sense of ritual and community in a sea of black screens and reassured them that someone is looking out for them and their learning. Leaving the physical classroom has been dramatic and troubling. Yet, every exit is an entry somewhere. These little exit tickets, although virtual, have proven that there is a way to make the new spaces welcoming, too.

For more insights about advancing teaching and learning through IT innovation, please visit the EDUCAUSE Review Transforming Higher Ed blog as well as the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative and Student Success web pages.

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Cari Kenner is the Director of the Academic Learning Center and a Professor at St. Cloud State University.

© 2020 Cari Kenner. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY 4.0 International License.