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The quiz module is a complex module with its own modular structure to allow question type plug-ins. The module has grown organically and in spite of a lot of rewriting for Moodle 1.5 the code is not very simple to understand. This page aims to collect useful documentation on how the module works.


When talking about the quiz module there are certain terms that can cause confusion because they can be used with different meanings. In Moodle we have adopted a certain terminology that will be explained below.


A question in the context of the quiz module is the set of definitions (question name, question text, possible answers, grading rules, feedback, etc.) that constitute a reusable assessment item. So it is much more than what one would in everyday language understand under a question and which in Moodle is just on field (the questiontext field) of the question object.

What in Moodle we refer to as a 'question' is what in the terminology of the QTI specification ismore appropriately called an assessment item or just 'item' for short.

There are different types of questions, like for example multiple-choice questions or numerical questions. These are referred to as question types in Moodle.

Since version 1.5 Moodle is able to handle so-called Adaptive questions, also known as 'adaptive items' in QTI speak. These are qustions that walk the user through a directed graph of question states depending on the user's responses. For example a complicated mathematical question that is answered incorrectly, but is likely to be incorrect because of a common mistake, could provide the user with a hint towards this mistake, apply a penalty and allow a second attempt at this question. Quizzes can be run in 'adaptive mode', which provides buttons to mark each question individually.


In Moodle the term 'answer' is used exclusively for the teacher-defined answers of a question. When talking about the quiz module it is easy to get confused between these teacher-defined answers and the answers that the students actually give. We have therefore adopted the convention to refer to the student-supplied answers as 'responses' and to reserve the term 'answers' to apply to teacher-defined answers. In question types that rely on teacher-supplied answers these are used in the grading process by comparing them with the student responses. Of course not all question types use teacher-defined answers but use some more intelligent way to process the student responses.

In Moodle we always use the term 'responses' to refer to the students' responses to a question because term 'answers' that one might also be tempted to use for this is already used to refer to the teacher-defined answers, see above. This term is always used in plural, although for some questiontypes there is only one possible response.


In Moodle the term 'attempt' is used in the sense of "Attempt at the quiz". Depending on the quiz settings, a student may be allowed several attempts at a quiz. An attempt is finished when the student clicks on the corresponding button on the attempt page. Students do not have to complete an attempt in one visit. They can navigate away from the quiz page and return later to continue the same attempt.

Within one and the same quiz attempt a student may make several attempts at answering a particular question, at least if the questiontype allows it and the quiz is set up in adaptive mode. These will always be referred to as 'attempts at a question', never just as 'attempts'.

Because a student can have several attempts at a question within the same attempt at the quiz, there is a lot of data that needs to be stored as the student takes the question through several 'states' by repeated interactions with the question. A state object holds the most recent state of the question and whenever a student submits a response or a similar 'event' occurs, the question goes to a new state. The complete history of question states that the question is taken through is saved and this is referred to as the question 'session'. Usually only the most recent state and the last graded state are of interest though.

Code documentation

The code is documented according to phpdoc conventions. The explanations here in the wiki are meant to complement this.

Inline comments should be used liberally in the code. The following conventions make it easier to search for comments with special meaning:

  • use TODO in comments about things that need to be done
  • use ??? in comments that are questions about the code

There are three function libraries:

All the functions that are sometimes called by the Moodle core
All functions that are used only by the quiz module
All functions that need to be available to any module wanting to use questions. This is New in Moodle 1.6, in Moodle 1.5 this was part of locallib.php

The default questiontype class is defined in questionlib.php. The individual questiontypes extend this class in their questiontype.php file. For documentation of the questiontype classes one should often look at the documentation of the default question type because much of the documentation that is in questionlib.php is not repeated in the questiontype.php files.

While questiontypes are realized as classes, the quiz module is not written in a truly object-oriented way. Instead it follows the Moodle model of using objects mostly only as alternatives to arrays to hold database records. So none of the quiz, question, attempt, and state objects that play a central role in the module have any methods. Only the questiontype objects have methods. Strangely enough the quiz module instantiates on object of each questiontype class at the start and then reuses their methods for the different questions. If one is used to the Moodle way of programming then this is easy enough to handle.

Objects and data structures

Key to understanding how the quiz module works is to understand the different kinds of object work together. The most important ones are:

  • Quizzes
  • Questions
  • Attempts
  • States

Quizzes and Questions are data created by the teacher when setting up and editing a quiz. Attempts and States are data created by the student when interacting with a quiz.

Moodle allows students to make several attempts at a quiz. Data about such an attempt is stored in an attempt object. This holds for example how the quiz was randomized for this attempt and the ordering of the questions and answers. So attempts are indexed by user id and quiz id.

Moodle allows students to interact repeatedly with a single question. So for example the student might initially just save an answer, later mark it, then correct it if it was marked incorrect. Each time the student interacts with a particular question inside a particular attempt at a quiz a new state is created. So states are indexed by user id, attempt id and question id.

Database structure

All this data needs to be kept in Moodle's database. How this is achieved is explained on a separate page about the Quiz database structure, which also contains a useful diagram.

As is customary in Moodle, most runtime objects simply represent the data from a particular database record. So for example a $quiz object has fields corresponding to all the fields in the quiz table. In some cases the objects have some additional fields that are added at runtime. This is particularly the case for $question and $state objects. These additional fields are also described on the page about the Quiz database structure. Many functions that are used to process these objects make use of the additional fields and it is therefore necessary to use the correct functions for creating these objects.

Runtime objects

Some objects used by the quiz module are purely runtime object and do not correspond to a database table. The structure of these objects is explained in detail on a separate page about the Quiz runtime objects.

The main script of the quiz module is attempt.php which will have to deal with all these objects. Studying the explanation of attempt.php is therefore a good way to start to study the quiz module code.

Response storage

The student's responses to a question are stored in
. Questiontypes are completely free to implement the storage mechanism of their responses (and other state information) the way they want. Still, the standard questiontypes all follow a similar model. The default storage model and the questiontype specific variations are explained below. The flexibility for the questiontypes to choose their response storage mechanism freely and to convert from the storage model to the runtime model is provided by a set of three functions, which allow to initialise the runtime
field, to convert from the runtime to the storage model and vice versa:
Initializes the $state object, in particular the
Loads the question type specific session data from the database into the
object, in particular it loads the responses that have been saved for the given
into the
Saves the question type specific session data from the $state object to the database. In particular, for most questiontypes, it saves the responses from the
to the database.
The generic quiz module code saves the contents form the
field to the answer field in the quiz_states table and also automatically restores the contents of this field to
. This means that any questiontype, which only expects a single value as its response can skip the implementation of the three methods described above. All questiontypes that have multiple value responses need to implement these methods. The default questiontypes handle this problem by serializing/de-serializing the responses to/from the answer field in the quiz_states table. However, it is also possible (and may be better practice) to extend the quiz_states table with a questiontype specific table, i.e. take the id of the quiz_states record as a foreign key in the questiontype specific table. Because the value of
is set to the value of the answer field, questiontypes that serialize their response need to overwrite (in
) whatever value the generic code set this field to with their serialized value (usually achieved with a simple set_field). In the method
the serialized value can be read from
because this is where the value from answer field of the quiz_states table has been moved. Care needs to be taken that this array value is then unset or the whole array overwritten, so that the array does not accidentally contain a value with the empty string index.

Response processing

The runtime model for responses dictates the structure of the $state->responses array. Starting with the names of the form elements this section goes through the relevant processing steps and thus attempts to clarify why the keys of the $state->responses array can differ for different questiontypes; even more, it explains how the array keys are chosen and set.

Although it may initially seem strange to start with the naming convention of the form fields, the reason for this will become clear later on. The controls (i.e. the form fields) of a question get printed by the method
. The convention only dictates that the name of the control element(s) must begin with the value of
. The
is a string starting with "resp" followed by the question id and an underscore, e.g.
. In the default case, when there is only a single control element (this includes the case of a list of equally named radio buttons), no postfix is appended to the name prefix. For questiontypes that allow or require multiple form elements, an arbitrary string can be appended to the name prefix to form the name of these form elements. The postfix must not include any relational data (i.e. ids of records in the quiz_answers table), because this can lead to problems with regrading of versioned questions. After the printing of the question the server only sees it again when it is submitted. So the submitted data will contain several values indexed by strings starting with
. Upon submission, the function
is called, which assigns the submitted responses to the state of the question with id XX, using the postfix (i.e. everything after the underscore) as array keys. In the default case with only one control element the name only consists of the name prefix. This explains why the default index of the
array is the empty string. The value of each array element is obviously the value that was submitted by the form, basically a raw response. The function
in turn calls the questiontype specific method
to assign a grade to the submitted responses and
to determine whether the response was identical to the previous submission and to avoid regrading the same responses repeatedly. These questiontype specific functions need to be aware of the expected keys of the
array. Finally, the methods
also need to know the questiontype specific layout of the
$state->responses array
and restore or save the information, e.g. by converting from or to the data representation.

Question types

The quiz module is itself modular and allows question type plug-ins. The following question types are included in the core distribution:

There are also some question type classes that are not proper question types but implement other features

It is hoped that Moodlers will contribute a lot more non-core question types in the future. For this it would be good to start a Guide to question type plugins.


The handling of grades is a bit complicated because there are so many different grades around that get rescaled and combined in various ways. This section should summarize how this is done and why.

The following grade fields are being used:

  • $question->defaultgrade
This is the default value for the maximum grade for this question. This is set up when the teacher creates the question and it is stored in an int(10) field in the quiz_questions table. However when the question is actually used in a particular quiz the teacher can overrule this default and this is stored in:
  • $question->maxgrade
This is the maximum grade that the teacher has assigned to this question in the context of the current quiz. This is by default equal to $questions->defaultgrade but the teacher can change this when editing the quiz. In the database it is stored in an int(10) field in the quiz_question_instances table.
  • $question->penalty
  • $state->raw_grade
  • $state->grade
  • $state->penalty
  • $state->sumpenalty
  • $attempt->sumgrades

The maximum grades set by the teacher, $question->defaultgrade and $question->maxgrade, are integers. All student-obtained grades are in principle floating point numbers. For historical reasons they are stored in the database as varchar(10) fields. Care has to be taken when writing to the database to make sure all grades are correctly rounded and squeezed into a string of no more than 10 characters, otherwise the writing to database will fail, see bug 4220.

The final outcome of the calculation of the grade for a user at a particular quiz is stored in the 'grade' field of the quiz_grades table. This field has type double.

Penalty mechanism

What it is for

When the quiz is run in adaptive mode the student can interact with a question repeatedly. So in particular the student can try again when he gets a wrong answer. Clearly the final mark for the question must reflect the fact that the student did not get it right originally. Therefore a penalty is subtracted from the final mark.

How the penalty is determined

First of all penalties are relevant only if a quiz is run in adaptive mode. Only in this case can a student have a second attempt and therefore only in this mode can there be any occasion to subtract a penalty.

Even in adaptive mode the penalty mechanism is only used when it is selected in the quiz options. If "Apply penalties" is set to "No" then the final mark for the question is the mark for the last graded response.

Each question has a 'penalty' field (which should really be called 'penaltyfactor') which is a number between 0 and 1. The penalty for a wrong response is calculated as the product ($quiz->penalty * $quiz->grade), i.e., as the product of the penaltyfactor with the maximum achievable grade for the question. This product is stored in $state->penalty. So $quiz->penalty is the fraction of the maximum grade that is subtracted as a penalty for each wrong response.

The $quiz->penalty field has a default value of 0.1, both in the database and in mod/quiz/defaults.php. This default can of course be overwritten by the admin on the quiz configuration page. This admin-selected default is (as usual for admin defaults) stored in $CFG->quiz_penalty. The teacher can choose a different penalty factor for each individual question when adding or editing a question.

Now if a student makes repeated wrong attempts (or partially correct attempts) the penalties for all these attempts are added up in $state->sumpenalties. The mark for the question is then calculated as the mark for the last graded response minus the sum of the penalties.

One curious fact about $state->sumpenalties is that, for efficiency reasons, it is not stored in the quiz_states table but instead in the 'sumpenalty' field of the quiz_newest_states table. That way it only has to be stored once per attempt rather than once per response.

Where it is done in the code

The function quiz_apply_penalty_and_timelimit() subtracts the penalty in $state->sumpenalty from the raw grade in $state->raw_grade to obtain $state->grade for the response. However it is ensured that the grade of a new attempt at the question never falls below the previously achieved grade. This function also increases $state->sumpenalty by the amount in $state->penalty. The assumption is that $state->penalty has just been set appropriately by the code calling this function, e.g., quiz_process_responses.

Time limit

A quiz can have a time limit. This is stored in minutes in $quiz->timelimit. So before using this in time calculations it always has to be multiplied by 60 to turn it into seconds like all other timestamps in moodle and php. If $quiz->timelimit is zero it means there is no timelimit.

If a student asks to start an attempt on view.php for a quiz with a timelimit then he is shown a javascript message alerting him to the timelimit and is asked to confirm.

For quizzes with timelimit attempt.php shows a javascript timer that counts down and automatically submits and closes the attempt when the time is up.

Confusingly there are two javascript timers in the quiz module. jsclock.php provides a countdown in the title bar that counts down to the quiz closing time if this is less than a day away. This has nothing to do with the timelimit. jstimer.php provides the countdown timer that implements the timelimit. It in turn uses timer.js.

The time a response was submitted by the student is recorded by attempt.php right at the top of the page and is then passed on to quiz_process_responses in $action->timestamp. This puts it into $state->timestamp. Finally, after the responses have been graded, the function quiz_apply_penalty_and_timelimit() checks that the responses are within the timelimit to within 5% and if not it sets the grade to zero (or the previously obtained grade, if that is higher).


Quiz attempts can be paginated, i.e., spread over several pages. The student can navigate between the pages using the standard Moodle paging bar. When the student navigates to a different quiz page the answers on the current page are automatically submitted for saving (but not grading).

To do this automatic submission the paging bar needs some javascript. It is therefore not produced with Moodle's standard print_paging_bar() function from weblib.php but with quiz_print_navigation_panel() which is defined in mod/quiz/locallib.php and produces something that looks the same.

The teacher has complete control via the edit interface on edit.php over where the page breaks should occur. He can repaginate the quiz with any chosen number of questions per page. He can also move the page-breaks up and down using the arrows.

Internally page breaks are stored in the $quiz->questions field (which now should really be called $quiz->layout). This field contains a comma separated list of questionids and pagebreaks where the pagebreaks are represented by the id 0. For example 23,12,0,11, 0 means that the two questions with ids 23 and 12 are on the first page and the question with id 11 is on the second page. The last page break is invisible and Moodle sometimes puts it there itself for its own convenience.

Because the quiz has an option $quiz->shufflequestions to shuffle questions the layout that the student sees in a particular attempt does not necessarily have to be the same as that stored in $quiz->questions. Therefore each attempt has its own $attemp->layout field. If $quiz->shufflequestions is false then this just contains a copy of $quiz->questions but if it is true then during the creation of a new attempt by quiz_create_attempt() the function quiz_repaginate() is used to produce a layout with $quiz->questionsperpage number of questions per page that are randomly ordered.

Both attempt.php and review.php use the $attempt->layout field to determine what questions to show on a particular page. That way we can guarantee that the student will, for a particular attempt, always see the questions in the same order and with the same pagination, both while attempting and during review. Also a teacher when reviewing a student's attempt sees the pages the same way they were shown to the student. However the teacher is also given the option to see all questions on one page.

There are some functions in locallib.php dedicated to handling the layout fields: quiz_questions_on_page(), quiz_questions_in_quiz(), quiz_number_of_pages(), quiz_first_questionnumber(), quiz_repaginate(). They are very short functions. The function quiz_first_questionnumber() that determines the number of the first question on a particular page makes use of the $question->length field. To allow this calculation to be fast is the main reason why that field is in the question table even though it could also be determined easily from the question type.

Question versioning

Note: Question versioning is currently disabled until it is re-developed to fix all reported issues.

When questions that were already attempted by a student are edited, it can be important to keep a copy of the question as it was before editing in order to reconstruct the quiz as it was seen by the student. To provide this functionality a question versioning mechanism was implemented.

The first goal, namely keeping around old questions, is easily achieved. They are just not deleted any more. However, this is not enough; it is also necessary to store which questions are versions of others. To achieve this goal, there is an additional table, which stores the versioning information: quiz_question_versions.

When a question is replaced for which there are already student attempts then all the attempt data gets associated to the new version of the question and is re-graded. This requires the question ids in the quiz_attempts, quiz_states and quiz_newest_states tables to be replaced by the new id. However we do also want to be able to reconstruct the quiz the way the student saw it when he gave his answers. For that purpose the id of the original question is always preserved in the 'originalquestion' field of the quiz_states table.

If all old versions of questions are kept around this could horribly clutter the editing interface. Therefore a field called hidden was added to the quiz_questions table and all old versions of edited questions are automatically hidden. When this flag is set to 1 the question is not displayed in the list of available questions, unless the user chooses to show them.

While the mechanism above should work as described, there is some additional complexity in order to minimise the number of versions created. If a question is created and has not been attempted by a student yet (this excludes teacher previews of the individual question and the quiz!), the database record will be reused (i.e. overwritten) and no new version will be created. This is especially important when the question is created and the first 2 or 3 mistakes are only noticed during preview.

On the editing screen for questions an additional set of options was introduced (see image). Replacement Options It shows which quizzes use the edited question and how many students have attempted it in a particular quiz. Based on this information it is then possible to choose in which quizzes the new version of the question should be used and in which ones the old one should remain.

By default the 'replace' checkbox for all quizzes that don't have any students' attempts are checked and in addition, if the question is edited out of a quiz context (i.e. not in the category question list), the 'replace' option is checked for that quiz as well.


The changes to the database structure are limited to an added field (hidden) in the quiz_questions table and an additional table called quiz_question_versions. However, dealing with the quiz_questions table has become slightly more complicated.

The hidden field in the quiz_questions table has no implications for the core functionality. It is only used to determine, as the name implies, whether the question is shown in the category list or not.

The table quiz_question_versions stores information about the actual change. This information includes the ids of the old question and the new question, the id of the user who did the change and a timestamp. Quite importantly, the id of the quiz, in which the question was replaced is also stored. This means that the versions table provides a history of the different states the quiz went through until it was edited to be at the current state. The information allows to recreate a quiz as it was at any point in time (from a data perspective - this possibility is not used extensively by the code).

Adjustments to the Data

When a question is replaced by a newer version, database records are updated in the order shown below (compare with question.php):

  • First a new record is inserted into the quiz_question_versions table for each affected quiz (i.e. each quiz in which the question was replaced).
  • Then, for each affected quiz, the comma separated list of question ids in the question field is updated by replacing the old question id with the new one.
  • In the quiz_question_instances table the record that links the old question to the quiz is also updated to point to the new question.
  • In all attempts belonging to the old question the comma-separated list of question ids in the layout field are changed by replacing the old id by the new one.
  • All states belonging to the old question are made to belong to the new version by changing the id in the 'question' field. However if we are replacing the original question then the id of this original version is stored in the originalquestion field.
  • We have to change the questionid field in quiz_newest_states.
  • Finally we have to do any question-type specific changes. For example question types that store student responses by storing the id of the answer in the quiz_answers table will have to recode these ids in all the states to point to the corresponding answers in the new version. This is handled by the function replace_question_in_attempts() in the question type class.

Affected Code and Functionality

Note: This section should still be considered under construction until the question mark behind bug #3311 is taken off.

In the file review.php and potentially also in the file attempt.php, if a question is edited during a student's attempt, the data from quiz_question_versions needs to be taken into account. If a student has attempted a quiz and a question was changed afterwards (i.e. a new version of that question was created), the question id of the old version remains in the comma separated list inside the attempt->layout field. However, since the records in the quiz_question_instances table get updated, we need to go forward in the question history, by looping through entries from the quiz_question_versions table, to find out the id of the question version that is currently used in the quiz.

Suggestion: With a fairly simple change to the convention of what is stored in the quiz_question_versions table we could get rid of the requirement of looping through all the versions. If in the newquestion field we store the id of the question that is currently used in the quiz, it would be possible to get the complete history for a question quite simply by selecting by quiz id and newquestion.

It should be fairly simple to write an upgrade script for this change. Additionally, another set_field would need to be added to question.php to change the newquestion field to the new question id. The benefits would be a much simpler handling of the question history, resulting in more efficient code than the current fix for bug #3311 in review.php.

The place where all the versioning actually takes place is question.php. Here the changes described in Adjustments to the Data are carried out.

Obviously the backup and restore scripts also take quiz_question_versions into account, however, they don't need to be concerned with the ways the data is used.

Changes for Moodle 1.5: adaptive questions

During the first half of 2005 the quiz module code has undergone a considerable rewrite to allow for adaptive questions in which a question session can consist of several sequential student responses. The question can adapt itself to the student answers. For example in response to certain answers the question could provide feedback or hints and then ask the student to answer again or give the student a simpler or related question.

Unfortunately many changes had to be made to the question type methods. This has however resulted in improved efficiency and has made the writing of question types easier. It also allows question types with more powerful features and has fixed some bugs / annoying behaviour.

For details see:

Of course there were countless other changes to the quiz module going from Moodle 1.4 to 1.5, especially to the teacher interface. However in spite of the fact that these changes are a lot more visible they were much less drastic from the point of view of the code. Here is a very incomplete list of changes:

  • New quiz results overview page
  • Reform of the quiz edit page: Changes on the quiz edit page are saved straightaway, not only after Save button is pressed.
  • Copying questions: The teacher can create a new question using a previous one as template.
  • Moving questions: The teacher can now move selected questions to a different category.
  • Re-marking after question editing: if a teacher corrects a question that students have already attempted the teacher can request a remark.
  • Teacher preview tab.
  • Detailed teacher control over what students can see during review.

Changes for Moodle 1.6: separating questions from quizzes

The quiz module is not the only activity module in Moodle that uses questions. The lesson does too and potentially questions could be useful in many modules. Therefore we have started to rewrite some of the quiz module functions and move them from locallib.php to questionlib.php so that eventually they could be moved into a central library and be used by other modules.

The details of the changes are explained on the page Separating questions from quizzes.

Future plans

The features below are in no particular order:

  • Editing questions: This is about editing questions after students have already attempted them. There needs to be a mechanism to keep the old versions of the question around for auditing purposes.
  • New quiz statistics pages?: These pages should be built by using functions defined by the individual question types.
  • Manual grade override: Teachers should be able to override the automatically calculated grades and should be able to make comments.
  • Off-line questions: The answers to these are handed in off-line in the conventional way (e.g., on paper) and teachers enter marks on Moodle.
  • Batch printing of quiz sheets: We want to be able to hand out question sheets to students so they can start working on the questions before going to the computer.
  • Question preview from question edit page: so the teacher can try the question already before saving the changes.
  • Show table of questions on view.php: gives teachers and students a bit of an overview of the quiz.
  • Extending deadlines for individual students: for example when a student misses a deadline for good reasons.
  • Filtering questions by quiz and by search: More ways to restrict which questions are shown on the quiz editing page.
  • Re-open quizzes for revision: After the due date has passed the quiz could allow practice attempts.