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Assessment in English and maths: cutting workload, increasing impact

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

After mass disruption in education since 2020, and pilots aimed at moving English and maths assessment online, it’s clear that we are soon likely to see a revolution in the way our students are assessed.

Like any assessment (whether paper or screen based), GCSE and Functional Skills exams are broadly assessing a student’s ability to recall knowledge, understanding, skills and/ or information to synthesise a coherent response (though, clearly, there is much more than this!).

So, how do we prepare students? And how do we do this without assessment and work overload? Simple: low stakes quizzes.

What are low stakes quizzes?

Low stakes quizzes are a short-form assessment, completed on a regular basis and therefore giving students frequent opportunities to practise retrieval skills. In short, continued retrieval of information makes that information easier to access when needed (i.e., in an exam).

Key Principles

Though there are many ways to design a low stakes quiz, the key principles remain the same. Let’s look at those principles:

1. A grid format

Though quizzes can differ in appearance, a grid format (with 9 questions) is important as, if questions are listed, students can fail to engage if unable to complete more than one question (with questioning increasing in difficulty, students may feel questions 5-9 are pointless if they can’t complete questions 3 and 4).

In a grid, students are more likely to answer questions they are confident with (therefore immediately achieving), leaving more time to work on challenging questions, which they then tackle after perceived success.

2. Align question numbers to specific topics

When designing a quiz, it’s important to identify topics which students require support with and align these topics to question numbers. For example, question 1 may always relate to sentence structure/ statistics; question 2, language features/ ratio etc. This supports efficient assessment as, if students struggle with a specific question, we know which topic this relates to and can map their performance on this question over time. For example, if question 3 is always on algebra, we can map student performance over a number of weeks and identify if more intervention/ teaching is required.

3. Tracking progress

Tracking of progress is not only for teachers. When students keep quizzes, they are able to see and reflect on their own progress. If a student is regularly answering question 3 incorrectly, they know that this relates to a certain topic and can begin to complete revision around this topic (and actively engage when this topic is taught). This also helps exam preparation, as students can easily see which topics need urgent revision.

4. Timing is everything

Typically, low stakes quizzes will be completed in the first 10-15 minutes of each session. This develops a consistent thread which runs throughout and links the curriculum (as opposed to a topic based curriculum, in which lessons exist as silos, unrelated to the lesson before or after). This allows teachers to shape planning more effectively – if students regularly answer all questions on a topic correctly, do we need to teach as much of that topic or can we focus on areas which require more attention?

5. Collaboration and language

Have you ever been to a pub assessment? Would you go to one? Chances are, no. Quizzes are engaging, short, accessible – if a student performs badly, they have an opportunity to beat their score in the next session. Assessments are long-form, anxiety inducing and high stakes – this simple change in vocabulary supports student to access assessment much more easily. Additionally, if quizzes are made collaboratively with peers, consistency is easily achieved and a bank of quizzes can be completed relatively quickly and painlessly.

Though there is no such thing as a silver bullet in assessment, low stakes quizzes are highly effective in assessing students, refining student knowledge and skills and guiding planning.

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