Self Testing: Strategies for the Classroom

Testing in schools is often met with angst and worry from both students and staff and it usually ends with an overwhelming sense of judgement. An ever-growing body of research actually suggests that low-stakes testing can improve learning. Furthermore, a cultural shift in the stakes held on testing to a lower non-social comparative can further enhance the opportunities to learn. Shaun Allison suggests several ways this can be done in a classroom in his blog ‘Rethinking Testing’ which can be found here.

Shaun suggests the following ways to use low stakes quizzing in the classroom:

  • questioning
  • retrieval quizzes from previous lessons
  • write everything you know about a particular topic
  • blind mind mapping
  • Cornell note taking
  • Flashcards
  • knowledge organiser
  • homework
  • complete the sequence.

There are many ways theses can be implemented into lessons, three of which are outlined below.

  1. Blind mind mapping – Starter task with a topic on the whiteboard, students then add anything they can retrieve from memory to the mind map using their normal colour pen (black). After 5 minutes or so students can then discuss their mind maps with their partner and add anything they did not have in a different colour (green). Once this task has been completed the class go through their mind maps together with the teacher on the whiteboard, anything missed off is then added in a third colour (red). The aim is for students to try and retain some of the red and green information next time this topic is completed or at home in their own revision sessions. A nice extension task to do would be try and use a fourth colour (purple) to create cross topic links to the mind map in an attempt to attach content to previously learned schema.
  2. Retrieval quizzes – A quiz on previously learned topic areas can be on the board as students enter the classroom, covering content from last lesson, last week, last month, last term and last year. Students answer the questions and the self-mark their work to create a low-stakes environment. Students can also be given 5 minutes to use their books or knowledge organisers to answer any questions they did not know in a different colour. The aim is for students to try and retain some of the information they did not know next time this topic is completed or at home in their own revision sessions. Another way this can be done is students write 10 questions with mark schemes across topics previously decided by the teacher. The students then have a set amount of time to get other students to answer their questions (one student answer per set of questions). Students then mark their own question
  3. Homework structure – a strategy for retaining year 10 content in cumulative examination based subjects is to use year 10 topics for homework throughout year 11. Another simple and effective way is to offset homework against in-class lessons by 2 or 3 weeks, giving the students time to ‘forget’ content and then have to retrieve it from memory a few weeks down the line

In an increasingly challenging environment, students are tested cumulatively and it is fundamental that our curriculums and lessons support the retention of content and that we develop strategies to aid the long term memory of our students.


James Crane


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