Thoughts on setting class assessment boundaries

Knowing Where They Are

As we move towards linear assessment, in year marking and the awarding of grades is going to become increasing more important to guide students and have a gauge on progress. Here is an excel sheet that I have developed this year to help staff gain an overview of student progress within their department that can then be used within discussions with their line managers to address emerging themes across cohorts, departments and faculties.

I use this within the context of a large sixth form college where many courses have >150 students on and there are few with <40 students. This sheet comes with the following health warnings:

  1. This should not be used to make students grades match three year trends or experience extend grades.
  2. With small cohorts (<50) trends and patterns are less reliable.
  3. No-one knows what the profile of grade boundaries will look like under the linear system yet.

It can be a useful tool to review where a cohort is mid-year following assessments. I encourage departments to use this with each assessment to get any overview of the spread of results that they have given in comparison to expected outcomes and three-year trends to give a pulse measure. Further to this, I expect them to complete a cumulative version at each assessment point to a running measure of cumulative/average student achievement across the year.

How to Use the Tool 

On the first sheet you need to enter some information about your cohort and previous grade profiles. On the first sheet enter:

  • your departments historical grade profiles for the last three years.
  • the expected grade profile of your current students (referred to as MEG – minimum expected grade. You may use one of many measures to set this within your institution).
  • the maximum score for your assessment (this can be raw or percentage as long as it matches the scores that you enter in the left hand ‘student scores’ column).
  • the student scores for the current assessment / cumulative assessments.

Paste or enter your student assessment scores into the ‘student scores’ column – don’t worry about blanks if you’re pasting from a spreadsheet – these will be ignored.

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 10.05.45

Initial page to enter assessment grades on and grade profiles to match current assessment up against.

As soon as you have entered your trend profile, you can immediately get an visual overview of your historical data on the ‘Three Year Trend %‘ and ‘Three Year Trend (raw)‘ sheets. It will also show you summary statistics, in both raw and percentage form, of the current assessment such as maximum score, minimum score, average score (mean), as well as measures of dispersion such as range and SD. This is a useful summary sheet and I encourage staff to print this out (along with the boundaries sheet) for each standardised assessment and have this available in their departmental folders.


At this point, you can go to the ‘% boundaries’ and ‘Raw boundaries’ sheets and see how the scores in your current assessment compare to your three year trend and expected profile of grades. You are able to change the green cells to alter the boundaries – either by percent or by raw score depending on the sheet. As you change the grade boundaries you will see the graph update to show the new profile.

Spread of grades against three year trends and expected grade profile of cohort.

Spread of grades against three year trends and expected grade profile of cohort.

This can be used to see how the students on your current assessment, or cumulative assessments, are achieving compared to three year trends and against their expected outcome as a cohort. It can also be used to ‘award‘ grade boundaries so that they produce a spread of results that you would be comfortable with – if you are doing this though, it should not just be a case of making the current assessment ‘fit’ the shape of the expected or expected profiles.

You can download the spreadsheet below – within the zip file is a blank sheet and one with some sample data so that you can see what it can do straight away. I’d be interested in any comments, changes or additions that people make to the sheet – so if you do, please share and let me know about it.


Staying Current as a Teacher of Psychology

Whether you are an experienced psychology teacher or just starting your NQT year there are always going to be developments in the area of psychology and a need to stay current. Here I’ve collated lots of links and resources, some free, some paid, that I think all psychology teachers should consider. If you can think of anything that I’ve missed then contact me.

Magazines and Journals

Keeping up-to-date with current research in psychology, and the teaching of psychology is a great pleasure of the teaching psychology. Here are a range of magazines and journals that will keep you current with new research in psychology and from psychology classrooms.

The Psychologist is the monthly publication of the BPS which is free to members or you can access the free archive which contains most of the articles. It contains great feature articles (like Phil Banyard’s recent “Where is psychology’s non-stick frying pan?“), reviews of books and resources, and current research for all psychologists.

Also from the BPS is the Psychology Teaching Review, which is a quarterly journal published by the Division of Academics, Researchers & Teachers in Psychology. This is a peer reviewed journal that you get free with membership of DARTP or you can buy individually if you see an issue you’d like from the BPS shop.

Teaching of Psychology is the journal from the APA Division 2 for Teaching of Psychology (you get free access with membership of the division). If you teach psychology at a high school, introductory college, or higher level, you will find something of practical use in every issue of Teaching of Psychology. This indispensable journal offers creative and hands-on articles that help you use a variety of resources (for example, technology as a teaching tool) to enhance student learning.

Psychology Learning and Teaching (PLAT) is an international peer-reviewed journal devoted to enhancing knowledge of how to improve learning and teaching of psychology. To this purpose, PLAT publishes research articles, reviews, target articles and corresponding comments as well as reports on good and innovative learning, teaching and assessment practices.

As a member of The Association for the Teaching of Psychology (below) you get a magazine, ‘ATP Today’, three times a year. This contains reviews, feature articles and information from psychology teachers in the UK, for psychology teachers in the UK.

Psychology Review is aimed more at students, but it’s still interesting for teachers to have a flick through. Especially good to get a school subscription, or point it out to your students to subscribe to as well.

Books & Resources

One of the most downloaded resources in the psychology section of Brilliantly compiled by Michael Griffin with help from Resourcd and TES users, the Psychology Teachers Toolkit is crammed full of inspiring and practical ideas for psychology teachers. Loads of ideas, activities and assessment strategies for psychology teachers – there’s not a lot more you need.

The BPS will send you some great Psychology Careers Posters for free to liven up your classroom and let your students know what the ‘next steps’ are for different careers in psychology.

Teaching Psychology 14-19 is a core text for all training psychology teachers, as well as experienced teachers engaged in further study and professional development. Taking a reflective approach, Matt Jarvis explores key issues and debates against a backdrop of research and theory, and provides guidance on practical ideas intended to make life in the psychology classroom easier.

The BPS Research Digest want to demonstrate how fascinating and useful psychological science can be, while also casting a critical eye over the methods used. They don’t just pick up on the same studies covered by the mainstream media. The editor regularly trawls hundreds of peer-reviewed journals looking for the latest findings from across the breadth of psychological science.



There are a wide selection of groups, societies and associations for teachers of psychology. Some are worth the fee, some might not be, you decide. With many of these you get access to a journal or magazine free (see the above list).

If you’re only going to join one group then it has to be the Association for the Teaching of Psychology (£25 annually, discount for student teachers). The ATP organise an annual conference where hundreds of psychology teachers come together to share best practice (and a few drinks) – members get a discount on tickets. You also get ATP Today free three times a year.

The British Psychological Society (£128 annually) has a powerful voice in raising the profile of psychology, developing standards and advancing the discipline. As a member of the BPS you get a copy of The Psychologist free every month as well as access to a whole range of benefits. If £128 is a bit steep for your wallet you can join as an e-subscriber for only £12 a year where you can access digital copies of the Psychologist each month rather than have it pop through your letterbox.

If you are a member of the BPS you can further join the Division of Academics, Researchers & Teachers in Psychology. DARTP promotes the professional interests of psychologists who teach and/or conduct research, whether in a university, school, college or any other academic environment. DARTP aims to facilitate the professional development of academics, researchers and teachers in psychology.

The Society for the Teaching of Psychology ($25/~£15), a division of the American Psychological Association (APA), advances understanding of the discipline by promoting excellence in the teaching and learning of psychology. The Society also strives to advance the scholarship of teaching and learning, advocate for the needs of teachers of psychology, foster partnerships across academic settings, and increase recognition of the value of the teaching profession. You don’t need to be a member of the APA to join and you get the Teaching of Psychology journal free four times a year.

European Federation of Psychology Teachers’ Associations (EFPTA) is a federation of national and regional associations of psychology teachers in schools and colleges in European countries. Members are mainly involved in teaching psychology at lower and upper secondary levels, to school students aged c.13-19 years. Their aim is to promote pre-university psychology education in Europe by facilitating co-operation amongst Psychology Teachers’ Associations.To this end we organise conferences, facilitate student and teacher collaborative projects, conduct research, and engage with other psychologists’ associations and educational organisations in Europe


Training and INSET

The Association for the Teaching of Psychology Annual Conference is for teachers of psychology and will offer updating sessions on psychology, presentations and workshops on teaching and learning, and opportunities to share good practice. The three-day ATP Annual conference boasts over 50 workshops to enhance your CPD on a wide range of topics from teaching and learning to current research. It is the number one CPD event for teachers of psychology in the UK.

Resourcd Webinars  –  Webinar: Short for Web-based seminar, it is a presentation, lecture, workshop or seminar that is transmitted over the Web using video conferencing software. Resourcd Webinars offer a variety of sessions from big names in psychology from the comfort of your classroom (or living room).

Glyndwr University’s MSc in Teaching of Psychology provides excellent CPD for practising teachers of post-16 Psychology who wish to obtain a Masters level qualification to maximise progression through the teaching procession. Both psychology graduates and graduates in other disciplines are eligible for this programme, which will support progressional development through an advanced study of theoretical developments and contemporary issues combined with the development of teaching and assessment skills.


Forums, e-Lists and Social Media

There’s a range of other support from forums and e-lists where you can ask questions, get involved in discussions about teaching of psychology and develop your networks.

PsychExchange @ Resourcd is the biggest forum and file sharing site for teachers in the UK. Here you can share ideas, see a massive 20,000 uploaded files from teachers, and get involved in the community.

PsychTeacher PsychTeacher is a moderated discussion list for teachers of psychology at all levels of education that is owned and operated by the Society for the Teaching of Psychology.

Diversity-Teach Listserv focuses on issues related to infusing diversity and international perspectives into the psychology curriculum in addition to diversity-specific courses.  The forum is open to all who are interested in incorporating diversity into their teaching at all levels (including high school, 2-year, 4-year college/university, and graduate school settings).

Teaching in the Psychological Sciences is an electronic-based discussion group developed by the Department of Psychology, and Academic Computing at Frostburg State University. The primary goal of this electronic conference is to promote teaching improvement by providing a daily forum for the exchange of ideas and information.

Psychologists who Tweet – I wrote a post collating lots of psychologists, writers and linked associations in Psychology over at PsychBLOG a year ago. You’ll find loads of people you might want to follow – including me @jamiedavies!

Making it Real: Psychology Applied Learning Scenarios (PALS)

Psychology Applied Learning Scenarios (PALS) allow a learner to develop flexible knowledge of a subject area, improve the effectiveness of problem solving skills and self-directed learning skills, and increase collaboration and intrinsic motivation. Students engage in self-directed learning and assessment through which they are required to explore a scenario to which there is no definite correct response. Within collaborative groups these learners work through the scenario applying their learning to the novel situation allowing them to demonstrate a wide variety of both lower (AO1) and higher level (AO2) skills. This concept of learning through experience is central to the development of PALS and has its roots heavily it that of problem-based and inquiry-based learning which argue for the importance of practical experience in learning.

Inquiry-based learning and problem-based learning have been seen as a move forward since the 1960s where they were developed to formalise assessments within the medical school by Howard Barrows. Since then PBL/IBL has been applied to many different subjects at a variety of levels. Norton (2004) formalised PBL in Psychology through her work into PALS by providing specific guidance and examples of how these can successfully be embedded into Post-16 Education in Psychology. Over the course of ten years she developed PALS in a third year counselling module and has written guidance to practitioners as to how these can be embedded in a variety of different situations and for a variety of learners at different stages in their educational career (Norton, 2004).

When using a PALS the teacher acts as a facilitator helping to guide learners to possible solutions or signpost concepts, theories and studies that may hold part of a possible solution. A PALS distinguishes itself from PBL in the nature that within psychology learners are required to develop knowledge of several different approaches to understand behaviour of an individual (Norton, 2004). The nature of PALS allows the learner to engage with these different approaches to investigate and explore how these would provide differing explanations or treatments for the behaviour in question.

PALS foster engagement in class demonstrating to learners that the content that is delivered can be interpreted and applied in many different and novel situations. This ensures that we are meeting the learning outcomes that are expected of a psychology course. QCA state that within a psychology course some of the learning outcomes are to “develop an awareness of why psychology matters” (p3), and “develop an understanding of the relationship between psychology and social, cultural, scientific and contemporary issues and its impact on everyday life.” (QCA, 2007, p4). PALS allow a student to develop their knowledge and skillset and provide them with skills and experience that will make them better learners and improve their studentship skills, both now at A Level and by providing a solid foundation on which to build at higher education. Further to this PALS allow psychology and the studies and theories that a student has been exposed to be ‘brought to life’ illustrating to students the applied nature of the subject and improving motivation and engagement in lesson.

A PALS can be an effective tool if utalised appropriately by practitioners. The PALS need to be developed by the teacher and with classes, allowing them to develop and build upon their skills over the course of a module, course or year. In the current landscape of changing specifications and Ofsted requiring teachers to demonstrate that their students can independently lead their own learning PALS and other pedagogical tools such as this will become more important and necessary. A PALS allows a learner to both stretch and develop their learning of knowledge and skills in a collaborative way; by combining PALS with independent work or tasks following discussion the practitioner is providing a learning with a platform on which they can excel. Not only do PALS help contextualise current learning if delivered appropriately will ensure that the students start to ‘think psychologically’ and see the subject as more than just requiring rote learning of names and dates.

Would you or do you use PALS in class? Maybe you use them an never know about the evidence behind the use of them? Are they useful to use in class? Thoughts and examples in the comments as ever.


Norton, L. (2004). Psychology Applied Learning Scenarios (PALS): A practical introduction to problem-based learning using vignettes for psychology lecturers. LTSN.

(full text currently available online here)

Article based on a more formal and in-depth review of PALS by Jamie Davies found here.

It’s all in the font: fortune favours the bold (and the italicised).

As teachers we spend a lot of our time considering how we can improve the retention of the information that we are providing our learners with.  Many take this consideration down to the level of the font used for a hand-out or on powerpoints.  I remember as a trainee teacher I was told that comic sans was ‘the best’ font to use and can especially aid those with dyslexia (the British Dyslexia Association actually list it with five other fonts that are recommended).

Diemand-Yauman et al. (2011) conducted two studies looking at the effect of ‘disfluent’ fonts suggesting that the additional cognitive processing required to assimilate the information will result in a greater memory trace of the information presented (as in Craig and Tulving’s (1975) Levels of Processing).  It is suggested that these aptly named “desirable difficulties” (such as using a disfluent font) capitalise on this by creating additional cognitive burdens that improve learning.

In the first experiment 28 participants had to recall a list of 21 items of abstract information – details of species of aliens. This task was meant to parallel taxonomic learning in a biology classroom; alien species were used in place of actual species to ensure participants had no prior knowledge of the domain. This informationScreen Shot 2013-07-21 at 15.35.24 was presented using three different types of font (Comic Sans, Bondoni MT and Arial). Results showed a significant difference in recall following a 15 minute delay (t(26) = 2.3, p < .05) with those participants who were presented with the disfluent fonts scoring 14% better on average on a recall test.  A second study was conducted in a naturalistic setting using 222 high school students as a follow up to the initial laboratory study and this supported the initial findings providing further evidence that using disfluent fonts aids recall.

This research would suggest that adding cognitive burden to a student during encoding is beneficial to their later recall.  There are several caveats to consider if / when implementing this.  Diemand-Yauman et al. recognise that it is important to ascertain the point at which material is no longer disfluent but illegible otherwise one would be hindering a student’s progress.  Further to this less motivated, less able, or those with specific statemented learning difficulties could find the fonts unaccessible.

The scope of disfluent interventions is wide and these are cost-effective and easily implemented.  Unless requested by a student with specific difficulties or instructed to by my learning support department I personally use either Arial or Calibri fonts and do not think that I will be changing this practice any time soon.  However, the underlying concepts of creating resources that require students to think and increase the cognitive processes rather than just giving it to them is an interesting on that I will be implementing in my next review of resources over the summer.

Would you consider action research on this? What are your feelings about utilising so-called ‘disfluent’ fonts in class or on worksheets? Your thoughts in the comments.


Diemand-Yauman, C., Oppenheimer, D.M., and Vaughan, E.B. (2011) Fortune favors the bold (and the italicized): effects of disfluency on educational outcomes. Cognition, 118, 1, 111-115.

doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2010.09.012  (full text currently available online here)

Spaced Revision | Improving Revision with Effective Techniques.

As we start to approach the exam session again, many students (and teachers) will be entering their favourite purveyor of stationary goods to arm themselves with all thhighlight-in-bookse tools that one could need to prepare for an exam: cue cards, revision books and, of course, highlighters. I have seen many students think that revisiting their notes armed with a handful of multicoloured highlighters is an effective way to get ready for the big day — well at least there is something visible to show for their efforts.

In this post, I will suggest a new evidenced based revision strategy called ‘Spaced Learning’. I provide some resources that I use in class at the bottom of the post to get you started too.

A recent study (Dunlosky, 2013) considered the relative benefits of a variety of revision and learning strategies and reflected on the impact they have on both learning and retention. Some of the findings should not come as a surprise to you (highlighting and rereading are not effective) but there is probably more to be gained by focusing on the top performing techniques that both teachers and students should be using.


Elements that seem to be key to improving retention are techniques that encourage the learner to think about what they are reviewing and distributing their efforts over time. The full article is quite a read at over 50 pages but it is possible to drop into it and review each of the ten techniques individually or just read the discussion of the article.

The Spaced Revision Technique

From this the idea of ‘Spaced Revision’ has evolved – an evidence based revision strategy that empowers students to use the techniques that work best for them within a set of scaffolding to support them. It has four stages that repeat over the course of a set period of time. This could be a revision period, over the course of a module, or ongoing over the course of the year.

Each spaced learning topic spans two days with two stages on the first day and the second two on the following day. A variety of different techniques are used for each topic you are reviewing (interleaved practice).


Stage 1: Review a topic – for the first 20 minutes utilise any technique you are comfortable with to review the topic. This could be highlighting, making notes, creating flashcards or using post-its. Often, you might stop after this and think ‘my revision is done!’. But no, this is just the start of an effective learning technique.

Stage 2: Transformation task – this is building on the elaborative learning tasks discussed above. Here you need to transform the notes or highlighting that you have from Stage 1 into something different. This could be a mindmap, a drawing, a song, a poem. By doing this you will have to be thinking ‘how’ am I going to show this content in a different form and ‘why’ does each piece belong. It can be fun too.

That is the end of the first session. When you return to your revision in the next day or two (distributed practice) you complete Stages 3 and 4 on the first topic and then start again with Stages 1 and 2 of a new topic.

Stage 3: Practice testing – with a friend, family member or one of the many websites online that have relevant psychology quizzes – test yourself on the area that you have reviewed.

Stage 4: Exam questions – finally, complete an exam question or questions on the area you have reviewed and mark this yourself using a mark scheme or ask your teacher to mark it (practice testing). Importantly, when you are composing your answer use elaborative interrogation and think ‘why am I writing this?’

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 13.08.14

The aim of Spaced Learning to to allow students to use techniques that they enjoy and help them revise while giving them a supportive scaffold to keep them going (or get them started).

Give it a go and let me know how you find the technique by tweeting @jamiedavies.



  • You need to plan your revision well and make sure that you stick to the plan. If you ever miss a session, you need to double up. It is all too easy to fall behind and then just give up with the process. With that in mind make an achievable plan and stick to it – and here is a sheet to help you do that.
  • Most exam boards put past exam papers that are more than 12 months old online 0r you could use sites like Resourcd to find them too.