The ActiveRecord module in Rails is one of the core components which have contributed to the success and popularity of the framework. A few months back we published a quiz, testing knowledge of the ActiveRecord API. In this short post we review average performance against this quiz and identify the question that posed the biggest challenge to our quiz-takers.


Our most popular quiz to-date has been that on Rails ActiveRecord API. This was a 10-question quiz, allowing you to test your knowledge on various aspects of ActiveRecord, a key building block in the Rails ecosystem.

Collecting the data from all respondants we can reflect on how people fared, and which questions posed the greatest challenge to the collective.

Breakdown by score

At the time of writing the quiz has a total of 1779 attempts registered, with a mean score of 35%. Multiple attempts may have been registered by an individual user, but this is unlikely to impact the conclusions drawn. The graph below shows the distribution of scores:

Frequency plot showing number of respondants registering a score in different buckets, 0-10, 10-20 up to 90-100
Distribution of scores for all attempts against the Rails ActiveRecord API quiz

The mean of 35% was surprisingly low, but you can see from the bar chart that the modal scoring interval was 40-49. The mean is suppressed owing to a skew in the data towards lower scores; this is on account of the higher scoring buckets being relatively sparsely populated. If you achieved a score of over 70%, well done, you are in the 95th percentile. If you achieved a score of over 80% you are in the top 1.5%.

Breakdown by question

We can look at how users performed against the individual questions. The bar chart below summarizes the percentage of correct responses for each question, you can click on the individual bars to see a screenshot of the question in each case.

The Hardest Question

Question 9 turned out the be the question which posed the most problems, with a mere 2.35% getting this question correct. The question probed understanding of different preloading and eager-loading techniques. You can read more about the differences in these techniques in this concise blog post from BigBinary. The actual question posed was as follows:

Screenshot of Qu 9 from Ruby ActiveRecord API quiz: Given the following models, regardless of the data in the database, which of the following patterns will issue a single SQL statement to the database?
The hardest question on the Rails ActiveRecord API quiz

The domain model is pretty simple; the User class has_many :posts, and each Post has a title attribute.

The User.joins pattern is used to filter users by the associated record, but it will not load the associated record. As a result, each time we access an associated Post object that will need to be loaded from the database. This is often the cause of the notorious N+1 problem.

The User.preload pattern will load both the User models and the associated Post models into memory. However it achieves this using two separate queries: one query to load the User records and a separate query to load all Post records associated with these users. As a result of this two-stage loading, you are not able to filter by attributes of associated records when using preload.

The User.eager_load pattern will load both the User records and the associated Post records using a single LEFT OUTER JOIN query. So this is a correct answer.

The User.includes pattern does the same as User.preload, but will also allow you to filter your queries by values in the associated table. If you do apply a filter to the associated table by applying a where clause, then the includes method will load both the User and Post records in a single LEFT OUTER JOIN query. So this is also a correct answer.


We have presented a short analysis of the results registered against our recently published Rails ActiveRecord API Quiz. The most challenging question probed our understanding of the difference between preload, eager_load, joins and includes for loading associated records in Rails.

If you have any thoughts or feedback, or ideas for future quizzes, please share using the comments section below. Thanks!


  1. The original quiz on Rails ActiveRecord API
  2. Concise BigBinary blog post discussing the differeces between preload, eager-load, join and includes


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