Using Canvas quizzes for adaptive placement testing

  • Group size: Individual placement tests
  • Teaching type: Designing or adapting programmes to be flexible and inclusive
  • Division: Academic Administration 
  • Subject: Languages
  • Tools: Canvas 


In language teaching, the curriculum is split into stages corresponding to levels of language development. It is important that students are placed at the level that is right for them. Being placed in too high a level can create frustration, whilst the opposite can lead to complacency.  Tutors therefore employed an adaptive placement test using ‘Mastery Paths’ in the Canvas quiz tool. Students are first tested on their use of language: this entails an introduction to stage one (the lowest stage) questions which are typically multi-choice, drag and drop or a similar limited choice type. Canvas automatically marks the students - success on easier questions will lead to more complex questions taken from later stages in the curriculum until the student reaches their threshold. At this point, students exit into a written and spoken test. Both tests are uploaded through Canvas, the spoken test taking the form of a student-generated video. The latter two parts of the test are marked by teachers. Students are then informed of the appropriate language level.


Traditionally, placement tests are grammar-focussed which can lead to unreliable results. This placement test assesses writing and spoken skills, so bolstering reliability. Marking time is reduced by using the automatic marking in the language section.


There was a large amount of variation in length of submission on reading and writing exercises. Often the submissions from elective students were much more substantial than those proffered by students for whom languages formed a compulsory part of their degree. Short offerings often caused difficulties in pinpointing exact levels of attainment.

screenshot of a slide illustrating the theory behind placement testing


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