Making the most of tests and mocks
For many schools, November, December and January are test season.
Whatever the year group, progress needs to be checked, tracked and
monitored in order to ensure the best outcomes for pupils. Depending upon
your year group and individual school’s policy, you may find yourself with a
heavy test marking schedule over the coming weeks and months. Making
these tests count is absolutely crucial for your wellbeing, that of your pupils
and their potential for success. Here are some key questions to consider
when setting, marking and evaluating tests for your classes:
1) What’s the goal of the test?
You need to know this, your pupils need to know this, their parents need to
know this. Clarify with your head of department and senior leaders what it
is they would like to see come out of this test. Is it a progress check? Is it a
learning opportunity? Is it a warning/wake-up call to pupils? Once you are
clear what the goal of the test is, you can share this faithfully with your
pupils and get more chance of buy-in. If the test is designed to show where
they are now and the results will prompt further intervention, be up front
with them about this. They are far more likely to respond as you would wish
if they understand why they are being tested and the potential
2) Goal in mind, what is the best format for the test?
If the test is aiming to show exactly what they would do in an exam if they
sat it now, then give them a full mock exam. If the test is aiming to judge
subject knowledge and gaps, essays and full tests may not be necessary
and you could provide a far less marking-heavy multiple choice style test
for this. This also lowers the potential stress on pupils. If you do wish to
give full exam questions, is last year’s exam paper the best option? In most
subjects, the questions from last year are extremely unlikely to be repeated
next year. A quick rewrite or questions from old papers could give your
pupils a chance to answer and receive feedback on questions that could
actually come up in their real exams.
3) How will feedback be provided?
Working within your school’s policies and expectations, what is the nature
of expected feedback for these tests? Some creative options could include:
A mark with few comments which allows for whole class feedback and
pupils noting their own strengths and areas for development; shorthand
marking codes shared with pupils; verbal feedback with actionable advice.
Talk to senior leaders and clarify the minimum written feedback required
and consider using other ways to provide feedback than reams of
handwritten notes (insider information alert: very few pupils read all of your
detailed and time-consuming written feedback - they look at a number or a
4) How can you make this test go beyond its purpose?
If everyone involved is going to spend hours setting, answering, marking,
feeding back and recording data from this test, you may as well make it as
versatile as possible. Consider all the many ways you can use this test in
the future: pupils can use it to write personal action plans and revision
schedules; pupils can rewrite and self-mark questions; pupils can write their
own exam questions using their tests as models; pupils can improve and
learn from each others’ work. Notice the emphasis on what the pupils can
do to make these tests count. You will be doing enough already - place the
responsibility back to them and give them tasks to make the time they
spent answering the tests worth it!
On that note - a final piece of advice a wise teacher once gave me. Your
school will have a policy expectation of when these tests must be returned
and some colleagues will frustrate you by returning them earlier than you. If
your pupils begin to question when you will get their tests back to them a)
assure them they will be returned in the time dictated by school policy and
b) remind them of how long they spent answering the test - how long would
they want you to spend reading and responding to a test that took them so
much time and effort? Get them to do the quick mental maths of multiplying
their response by the number in their class and you’ve just very positively
reminded them that good quality feedback is respectful, important, and
Good luck with test and mock season, look after yourselves, and look to
each other for support - I bet someone in your department has a handy
assessment feedback sheet that could halve your marking time! Just ask
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