Homework Practice Sessions

Introducing our unique “encouragement-based” homework system

Every Conceptual Academy course hosts our unique “encouragement-based” homework system. Here’s the short and the long:

The Short (Just the Facts):

Arguably, the best way to learn anything is through practice, practice, practice. Want to learn to play the piano? You gotta practice. It’s just how we’re built to learn. Toward this, Conceptual Academy offers a “homework practice session” for each lesson. While our automated video and reading quizzes serve to make sure the student understands the main points of each video or each reading assignment, the HPS takes a student’s understanding to the next level.

Through the HPS, we’ve opened up our entire test pool. All 5400 questions are now available, which corresponds to up to 100 questions per lesson providing what is essentially an endless practice exam for each lesson. Each student can practice to their heart’s content based upon their individual needs. They get a question wrong? No problem. No penalty point deduction. The student just moves onto the next question, again, as they need. . .till they tire out, but, please, no more than that. Practice is only effective with good energy. The goal here is to encourage the student to practice. There’s a point reward for each correct answer. Yeah! But that’s not the main goal. The main goal is encouraging the student to practice to an extent that matches their needs and ambitions. Multiple choice? Yes, they’re all multiple choice. But they’re all also short answer. How can they be both?? Interested? That’s the long of it. Read on!


The Long (All the Ideas)

There’s quite a bit to describe here, all of which you’ll also find in the teacher’s manual for each course. So, you might stop reading right now and study that manual later. Or you might read on.

The Reading and Video Quizzes

It all began with our reading and video quizzes. Every Conceptual Academy course features what we call “reading check” and “video check” quizzes. These are quizzes with low level questions. Their main purpose is to help the student make sure they have captured the main points from either their textbook reading or from a particular video. They are also a means of providing the student credit for staying on task. Receiving this credit is exceedingly important. We all appreciate recognition for significant effort put forth.

Colleges using Conceptual Academy typically require students to work on these reading and video quizzes as a semester-long assignment worth up to 20% of their overall course grade. In a typical Conceptual Academy course there can be over 750 reading and video check questions! The student earns 2 points for each correct answer when answered BEFORE the lesson due date, but only 1 pt (50%) if answered correctly AFTER the lesson due date. We call this a 2/1 system, which means about 1500 points are possible (750 x 2 = 1500). The instructor, however, requires the student to earn only about 600 points (sometimes more or less depending upon the instructor). Students really appreciate the deadline, but they’re also not killed if they miss a particular deadline. Life happens. Work. An illness. Bad weather. Internet disruption. Family responsibilities. The role of the instructor becomes that of a coach. The instructor sees the points collected by the class in real time and has an important metric as to their actual time on task. Mostly, this allows the “coach” to act accordingly, which typically means spiriting the students along in their study habits.

A Measure of Student Attitude

From this experience, we stumbled upon a remarkable discovery. . . . An assessment system that is a quantitative measure of student attitude. This is in contrast to usual assessment systems measuring student aptitude. From campus to campus (large, small, public, or private) we see the same results, which is that a large portion of the students do NOT stop at the minimum point requirement. Rather, they keep on going beyond the required point threshold. Why? Because it’s a system based upon reward, not penalty. Here’s a typical bar graph from a large-enrollment state university (Fall 2017) showing points accumulated per student by the end of the semester:

Over a third of the class is far exceeding the point requirement. From campus to campus, the shape of this bar graph is remarkably consistent. It looks the same whether the instructor sets the threshold at 200 or 1000 points. It was then that we realized we were onto something.

That Something: Penalty-Based vs Encouragement-Based

In a traditional homework system all students start out with a high score. For example, say the first assignment is made easy to help keep a positive attitude at the start of the course. Say all students earn a 100%. From the student’s point of view, so far so good. They’re excited. But then as the course progresses, things naturally start getting more complicated. The aim of studying is to minimize how far you get cut down from this early high percentage score. The go-getters might be incorrectly answering only 10% of the questions and thus are able to maintain a 90% for an “A” letter grade. Yeah for them! Others might follow a different path of getting cut down all the more. But the theory goes like this: The more you study, the less you get cut down. This is the premise of what we call a “Penalty-Based” assessment system. You study not to practice, but to avoid the penalties. In such a system, the focus is on surviving the rough. Those who swim the best, sink the least.

This is all flipped in what we call an “Encouragement-Based” assessment system, as is what we discovered with our reading and video quizzes. In such a system, all students start at zero, which is natural because most of the students are simply not yet familiar with the material. As the course progresses, the students are challenged with questions that probe their level of understanding. They earn points with each correct answer, but no points for each incorrect answer. There are numerous questions within the test pool to provide ample opportunity because, after all, the WRONG answer a student provides can be just as valuable, if not more so, in terms of the learning experience. Is it really proper for a student to lose points when they are learning the most? In our opinion: Absolutely Not.

So here’s the punch line: In a Penalty-Based system, students are cut downward. Within an Encouragement-Based system, the students build themselves upward under the expert guidance of the course instructor who is there to coach them along to improved learning. The instructor coaches, in part, by setting a required threshold of points, for example, 600 points, and providing other incentives (not mentioned here) along the way. All students who earn this 600 points by the end of the semester have EARNED a 600/600 = 100% on this assignment, which counts for up to 20% of the overall course grade.

Applying This to a Novel Homework System

The response from college instructors using this system at Conceptual Academy has been very positive. It works at helping to hold students on task. Students are held accountable as well as rewarded. But this system was initially built only around our video check and reading check quizzes, which contain lower level types of questions. Could we do something similar involving tougher questions that would be a more appropriate as a prep for the much more challenging unit exams?? The answer is YES. It was quite the task but we are most excited we met our release date of August 2018 — the system is now several years strong!

But wait, there’s more! We’ve set this up as similar to but not identical to the reading/video quizzes. For example, with the reading/video quizzes there are a fixed number of questions per quiz. For the new “Homework Practice Session” (and there’s one for every lesson) the student is presented only one question at a time, just one. Short and sweet and focused. The question is first presented as a short answer (not graded, but great for a warm up) followed by the multiple choice version of that same question (for points). The student can then click the “NEXT” button for the next question. Again, and again, and again, (Practice, practice, practice) for as long as they wish, but to the limits of the size of our test bank, which is up to 100 questions for any one Homework Practice Session. We assume about 15 questions will suffice for a single session for the average student. The student collects points for each correct answer. Much like a video game but where points are earned not for killing monsters, but for understanding.

Each student’s Conceptual Academy grade book track points earned from these “Homework Practice Sessions” (HPS) as it does for the reading/video quizzes. For each course we have a recommended threshold of points students are to earn for each unit. It looks like this within your course log sheet (also provided within the teacher’s manual):

    Per Unit Grading  

 Metal Status

Points to Qualify

Points Earned





Advance by another metal in another unit




Advance by one metal in another unit




  “A” work




  “B” work




  “C” work




  “D” work






For each unit, the student works their way up from one “metal status” to the next. Their goal is to reach the gold status for full credit “A” level. Each subsequent level they might reach (platinum and supernova) allows them to advance by one metal status in another unit where they might be shy in points earned.

The best coaches know how to apply that balance of both carrot and stick leading to a winning season. Our encouragement-based homework system is all carrot. For the stick, we still have our Conceptual Academy unit exams, which your student will find to be quite the challenge, especially given their team-based “pyramid” format. But with plenty of practice, it will be a challenge met with success. You will find many winning seasons.

Your support is greatly appreciated and helps to pay it forward to the further development of Conceptual Academy. Thank you for this support. And, as always, please write to us with any questions you may have. We look forward to hearing from you. Write to Support@ConceptualAcademy.com.

Good chemistry to you,

John Suchocki
ceo / founder Conceptual Academy





Sample Video: The Periodic Table

“Understanding the world from the perspective of atoms and molecules provides us much insight into the environment in which we live as well as the nature of living organisms, including ourselves. By learning the basic concepts of chemistry, we are empowered to make wiser decisions for a bright and sustainable future.”