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Ruby-based Quiz Generator and DSL

This is a simple gem that takes a set of questions (a "quiz") written in RuQL ("Ruby quiz language" or "Ruby question language" - a DSL embedded in Ruby), and produces one of several possible output formats.

Some types of questions or question elements that can be expressed in RuQL cannot be expressed by some LMSs, and some LMS-specific question features cannot be expressed in RuQL.


gem install ruql to install this from RubyGems. It works with Ruby 1.9.2 and 1.9.3; haven't tested it on other versions but should be fine.


RuQL is licensed under Creative Commons BY-SA license v3.0 or any later version. You can use it for any purpose, including commercial, and you can create derivative works, but the following attribution must be preserved: "Copyright 2012 Strawberry Canyon LLC". And you must be willing to share your improvements back to this repo.

Creating Quiz Questions in RuQL

RuQL supports a few different types of short-answer questions and can output them in a variety of formats compatible with different Learning Management Systems or in printable form.

RuQL is a DSL embedded in Ruby, so you can include expressions in questions, for example, to generate simple variants of a question along with its solution.

Short-answer fill-in-the-blanks questions

Put three or more hyphens in a row where you want the "blanks" to be, and provide a string or regexp to check the answer; all regexps are case-INSENSITIVE unless :case_sensitive => true is passed.

fill_in :points => 2 do
  text 'The capital of California is ---.'
  answer 'sacramento'

Optional distractors can capture common incorrect answers. As with all question types, an optional :explanation can accompany a correct answer or a distractor; its usage varies with the LMS, but a typical use is to display a hint if the wrong answer is given, or to display explanatory text accompanying the correct answer.

fill_in do
  text 'The visionary founder of Apple is ---'
  answer /^ste(ve|phen)\s+jobs$/
  distractor /^steve\s+wozniak/, :explanation => 'Almost, but not quite.'

You can have multiple blanks per question and pass an array of regexps or strings to check them. Passing :order => false means that the order in which blanks are filled doesn't matter. The number of elements in the array must exactly match the number of blanks.

fill_in do
  text 'The --- brown fox jumped over the lazy ---'
  answer [/fox/, /dog/], :explanation => 'This sentence contains all of the letters of the English Alphabet'

fill_in do
  text 'The three stooges are ---, ---, and ---.'
  answer %w(larry moe curly), :order => false

Multiple-choice questions with a single correct answer

You can provide a generic explanation clause, and/or override it with specific explanations to accompany right or wrong answers. If :randomize => true is given as an optional argument to the question, the order of choices may be randomized, depending on the LMS's capabilities. Otherwise, choices are presented in the order in which they appear in the RuQL markup.

choice_answer :randomize => true do
  text  "What is the largest US state?"
  explanation "Not big enough." # for distractors without their own explanation
  answer 'Alaska'
  distractor 'Hawaii'
  distractor 'Texas', :explanation => "That's pretty big, but think colder."

Specifying :raw => true allows HTML markup in the question to be passed through unescaped. DEPRECATION WARNING: this was originally included for allowing code blocks in questions. It is probably going away so don't rely on it.

  choice_answer :raw => true do
    text %Q{What does the following code do:
  puts "Hello world!"
    distractor 'Throws an exception', :explanation => "Don't be an idiot."
    answer 'Prints a friendly message'

Multiple-choice "select all that apply" questions

These use the same syntax as single-choice quetsions, but multiple answer clauses are allowed:

select_multiple do
  text "Which are American political parties?"
  answer "Democrats"
  answer "Republicans"
  answer "Greens", :explanation => "Yes, they're a party!"
  distractor "Tories", :explanation => "They're British"
  distractor "Social Democrats"

True or false questions

Internally, true/false questions are treated as a special case of multiple-choice questions with a single correct answer, but there's a shortcut syntax for them.

truefalse 'The week has 7 days.', true
truefalse 'The earth is flat.', false, :explanation => 'No, just looks that way'

Preparing a quiz

A quiz is a collection of questions in the do block of a quiz, which has a mandatory name argument:

quiz 'Example quiz' do   
  # (questions here)

You create a quiz by putting the quiz in its own file and copying-and-pasting the questions you want into it. (Yes, that's ugly. Soon, questions will have unique IDs and you'll be able to create a quiz by reference.)

Additional arguments and options

The following arguments and options have different behavior (or no effect on behavior) depending on what format questions are emitted in:

  1. All question types accept a :name => 'something' argument, which some output generators use to create a displayable name for the question or to identify it within a group of questions.

  2. The optional tag clause is followed by a string or array of strings, and associates the given tag(s) with the question, in anticipation of future tools that can use this information.

  3. The optional comment clause is followed by a string and allows a free-text comment to be added to a question.

Generating a quiz from a RuQL file

Using questions with Open EdX

To quickly add an inline question (multiple choice, text or numeric input, or option dropdown) to a course unit in EdX Studio:

  1. Create the question in RuQL with an attribute :name => "some-name" and put it in some file questions.rb
  2. Run ruql questions.rb EdXml -n some-name
  3. Copy the resulting XML to the Clipboard. In Studio, select "Advanced Editor" view for the question, which shows the raw XML of the question. Replace that raw XML with the output from ruql.
  4. Visually check that the question looks right in Studio, since some markup that is legal in RuQL doesn't format correctly in Studio.

Creating an HTML 5 or Printable Version of a Quiz

Run ruql questionfile.rb Html5 --template=template.html.erb

The optional template should be an .html.erb template in which yield is rendered where the questions should go. If you omit the template argument, you'll get the html5.html.erb file template that comes in the templates directory of the gem.

If you also specify --solutions on the command line, you can generate an HTML5 version that includes identification of the correct answer. NOTE that if you do this, the HTML5 tags will clearly identify the correct answer--this format is meant for printing, not for online use, since a simple "view page source" would show the correct answers!

Creating an AutoQCM quiz

The AutoQCM tool uses LaTeX to create a multiple-choice quiz with answer bubbles, and includes software to automatically score scanned multiple-choice answer sheets it creates.

You can generate (mostly) AutoQCM-compatible LaTeX input sources from a set of RuQL questions:

ruql questionfile.rb AutoQCM --template=my_template.tex.erb

The template file will be run through erb and should render yield where the questions should be. A template file is mandatory for AutoQCM. If you omit the template argument, you'll get the autoqcm.tex.erb template in the gem's templates directory.

The command-line option --penalty=0.8 takes a number that indicates what fraction of the question's total points should be deducted as a penalty for wrong answer. For example, a question worth 4 points with a penalty of 0.25 means the student receives -1 point for the question, as opposed to zero points for leaving it blank. Default if omitted is zero. This information is just embedded in the file that will be passed to AutoQCM.

There are additional renderers not described here. The renderer misleadingly called 'XmlRenderer' once upon a time generated Coursera-compatible markup, but that was long ago. The JSON renderer outputs questions in the MOOCdb format.

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