How to Revise #1: Retrieval Practice

This is the first post in a series looking at the most effective ways to revise, based on the work of The Learning Scientists. The Learning Scientists are cognitive psychologists who want to make scientific research on learning more accessible to students and teachers. Their aim is to motivate students to study and increase the use of effective study and teaching strategies that are backed by research. I’ve met Yana Weinstein PhD at an education conference in Southampton last week – she’s the real deal!

Retrieval Practice: what is it?

Retrieval practice is when you make your brain recall information from memory, and then do something with that information.

Retrieval Practice: why?

By forcing your brain to recall information from memory, it strengthens the connection in the long term memory and makes it easier to remember it next time. Failure to retrieve information also helps. If you can’t remember an important piece of information, fact or idea, it tells you that you need to re-learn it carefully so you can retrieve it next time.

Retrieval Practice: how do I do it?


Flashcards are particularly useful. Write a concept or keyword on one side, and the definition on the reverse. Alternatively, write a question on one side, and the answer on the other. Look at the front and remember the information on the reverse. Don’t be tempted to flip the card – if you do, you’re just reading the information, not recalling it from memory, and this isn’t helping with retrieval.

Retrieval Practice: next steps

Testing yourself is difficult! Don’t worry if you find it hard. The struggle is actually making the connections in your brain more secure. Follow the advice above and it will get easier – but if you cheat and look at the answers, you aren’t securing those connections to your memory.

It’s also vital to check that you’ve recalled information correctly, otherwise you might be cementing incorrect definitions and ideas into your memory!

Retrieval Practice: watch the video

In this video, the Learning Scientists explain about retrieval practice:


Happy revising!

The hare and the tortoise


A school year is a marathon, not a sprint: it’s important to pace ourselves. It reminds me of the story of the hare and the tortoise. The hare sets off at a terrific pace, relying on its natural talent – speed – to get it through. Initially, it pays off and the hare sprints ahead. However, it can’t maintain the pace over time, and ends up asleep under a tree. The tortoise understands that consistent, steady effort, applied over time, will bring its rewards. Because that level of effort can be sustained, the tortoise overhauls the sleeping hare and finishes ahead.

“The moment we believe that success is determined by an ingrained level of ability, we will be brittle in the face of adversity.”

Josh Waitzkin

Everyone at Churchill – staff and student – needs to put in constant and consistent effort in every lesson, every day. That way we can all stay on top of our work and make sure we haven’t got an impossible mountain to climb at the end of term or the end of the year. But it also means that we can sustain that level of effort over time, and make trying hard our default behaviour. Relying on our natural talents to get us through – coasting – may get us a certain distance, but there will come a time when it isn’t enough. Then, if we aren’t used to trying, we won’t have the reserves to make it count.

Another key element to making sure we have the energy to maintain our effort over time, is to ensure we build in relaxation time. We can’t work all the time, and time to unwind and de-stress is vital! It’s also essential that we eat and sleep well, so that we are charged up and ready for the hard work of learning during the school week.

Pace yourself – and keep going!



Assessment without levels at Churchill

This week Year 7 received their starting profile reports, which assess students as they start the school. These reports are the first we have issued at Churchill since national curriculum levels were removed from both primary and secondary schools. In their absence, we are using several measures to assess students at the Academy, and to track their progress. Our aim was to design an assessment system that gave useful information to students and families, whilst being clear and easy to understand.

Assessment on entry

Key Stage 2 Test Results (SATs)

We get the results for every child who has taken the SATs at the end of Year 6 in their primary school. The overall scaled score – combined from their English and Maths tests –  ranges between 80 and 120, with 100 being the national average. At Churchill, the average score we have in our Year 7 is 104.

In addition to the Key Stage 2 results, we do several tests to assess students when they start at the Academy. This helps us to “triangulate” the data and gives us a level playing field for all starters.

CATs Tests

These tests include assessments of students’ performance across four “batteries” of tests:

  • Verbal (handling words and language)
  • Quantitative (handling number)
  • Non-verbal (problem solving)
  • Spatial (handling shape in two and three dimensions)

The national average across the four batteries is 100, with scores usually ranging between 90 and 110. At Churchill our average for Year 7 is 103.

NGRT Reading Test

This test assesses reading and comprehension of text. Again, the national average is 100, with scores usually ranging between 90 and 110. At Churchill the average for our Year 7 is 107.

Starting profiles


Starting profiles for our current Year 7

We use the scores from Key Stage 2 tests, CATs and the NGRT Reading Assessment to create the profile of the year group. The chart above shows distribution of the average of the scores across the three assessments in our current Year 7. This helps us to give students a “starting profile” which we can use to track progress over time. Starting Profile 5 (SP5) represents the highest scores across the assessments. Most of our students are in Starting Profile 3 (SP3 – the highest point on the curve, with the highest proportion of students). Starting Profile 1 includes students with the lowest scores, so that we can assign support as appropriate.Starting profiles are reviewed each year.

Tracking progress over time

When students are assessed in future, we will be able to track their progress relative to their starting profile. In each subject, assessments will be scored and we will be able to report to families whether students have made:

  • Expected progress relative to their starting profile
  • Good  or Exceptional progress (better than expected) relative to their starting profile
  • Less than expected progress relative to their starting profile

In other words, if a student with a Starting Profile of 3 completes an assessment and the score shows that they remain in that bracket, they will be assessed as having made “expected progress.” If they have worked really hard and moved up in their assessments, they will be assessed as having made “better than expected progress” and so on.

In the future

At the moment, we are running this assessment system with Year 7, and tracking the progress of Year 8. Over time, as the new GCSEs are taken, we will be able to make more accurate estimates of GCSE grade expectations for students with particular starting profiles. This means we will be able to roll the system out over time across the whole school.

We hope that you find the assessment information useful!