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.

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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.


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?’

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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.

How many uses can you think of for a paper clip?

“It is not what the man of science believes that distinguishes him, but how and why he believes it. His beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based on evidence, not on authority or intuition.”

Russell, 1945

I posted my Critical Thinking in Psychology essay recently where I discuss in depth critical (or rational) thinking in the context of A Level psychology. Here I want to share one of my favourite lessons of the year where I encourage my students to start thinking critically (find the lesson powerpoint at the bottom of the post or here).

One approach to increase students critical thinking skills is to get them considering methodological issues outside of the narrow framework of each subject specification and bring these issues to life. The use of activities such as ‘More cat owners have degrees’ demonstrating the dangers of misinterpreting correlational research and the possible bias caused by funding, and ‘The dangers of bread’ again illustrating issues of inferring causation from correlation act as excellent points for discussion about causation and correlation. Articles such as these teach students to be ‘savvy consumers and producers of research’ and develop the abilities needed to analyse, synthesise and applied learned information.

A key element of critical thinking is not taking results and conclusions at face value and questioning the methods that were used and any biases that these could have introduced when making inferences from results.  I have designed several activities  to make learners aware of  ‘blind acceptance of conclusions’conclusions’ and the fallibility of accepting results  without question. I have pulled all of these activities into one lesson with the aim of engaging students and creating an enthusiasm about evaluation.

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 16.38.14Initially, I start with abstract questions to get the learners considering critical thinking outside of psychology and allow them to develop their own awareness. This starts from the moment they enter the room when the starter is the question ‘How many uses can you think of for a paper clip‘. After giggles, head scratching and some quite lateral thinking we move on to discuss what ‘critical thinking’ is.

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Before moving into discussion explicitly linked to psychology studies I ask them to write some instructions as to how to make a piece of toast. The students are a little suspicious at this point but after a few minutes you get the usual: get the bread, put in the toaster … and of course the debate on Nutella vs Marmite! Then I pose the question ‘but where did you get the toaster from …‘ and show the excellent TED video ‘Thomas Thwaites: How I built a toaster — from scratch

From here is time to turn my new ‘questioning‘ students back to psychology …

The first activity is based on hindsight bias, or the “I knew that all along” attitude, helping students become aware of the fact that anything can seem commonplace once explained if you are not aware of the underlying methodology.

This was the rationale for the ‘Lazarfield task’ that starts with the class being divided into two groups with each half receiving conclusions from a study (adapted from Lazarsfeld, 1949). However, unaware of this, the two groups received the opposite findings. For example group one would receive:

“Better educated soldiers suffered more adjustment problems than less educated soldiers.”

Whereas the second group would have:

Better educated soldiers suffered fewer adjustment problems than less educated soldiers.”

Each group have to make inferences about ‘why’ the conclusions might be true. Following on from the task students were asked to “did the findings make sense?” and to feedback their reasons. Only at this point will the class be made aware that they had the opposite findings and how easily it is to justify a finding after the fact. A discussion about the fallibility of the “I knew that already” attitude follows in relation to the students that the students have completed. This allows for the learner to review conclusions made and consider alternative arguments, confounding variables and biases in generalisations made.

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To then scaffold students’ analysis and evaluation skills a set of critical thinking questions to frame evaluation of research was adapted. These critical thinking questions provide students with important questions that they can use to establish the credibility of a research method. It also allows differentiation across learners providing the opportunity for those with low ability to give limited responses and the more able students to expand and demonstrate their synoptic awareness of research methods and the surrounding issues and concepts.

This is one of my favourite sessions of the year – you can actually see the students thinking, discussing and debating issues. They are staring to think like psychologists, like scientists. Not accepting what is in front of them but asking important questions. What is great to see is the reaction following the session – how the students often refer back to the session.

My only warning – I asked my students to keep asking ‘but why?‘ – they do!

How do you develop critical thinking skills in your learners? Could you adapt this session to your subject? If you do – please share it in the comments.

Idea-ology – The Learning Ladder

Recently I was involved in a discussion about when you should end an activity in class; when the first person finishes, the last person, about half? Lots of valuable points were given for all arguments but the consensus was it should be when the first person finishes – you can’t leave learners with nothing to do – that’s when disengagement creeps in and disruption can occur.

Slide1From this I moved the discussion on to talking about how to ensure that those more able learners don’t ‘finish first‘ and have extension exercises, differentiated tasks and follow up activities to support their learning and enthusiasm for education. This must be an issue for all classroom teachers, from primary level to sixth form that teachers have to consider when planning.

This year I have been using the outstanding Thinking Ladder from Charlotte Russell at Built on the ideas of Bloom’s Taxonomy (the new domain taxonomy with create at the top) students can select a task (see below) from each of the six stages when a classroom task is complete to extend their knowledge, understanding and develop their higher level skills.

Not only does this help with extending students’ knowledge but it also encourages metacognition and allows the learner to think about their learning and the skills that are required for different levels of questioning. This is introduced at the beginning of the year and reinforced throughout by the task instructions:

Every lesson you will have a set of learning objectives which are designed to help you move up the thinking ladder. The thinking ladder helps you to learn by developing your skills. You start at the bottom and as your learning progresses you will gradually make your way towards the top.

The skills at the bottom (REMEMBERING, UNDERSTANDING & APPLYING) are the basic skills you need to pass. As you move upwards you access the harder skills (ANALYSING, EVALUATING & CREATING). It is these skills which will help you to access the higher grades!

Slide6Students are encouraged to complete more tasks to complete a tracker sheet which can be rewarded however you see fit as a teacher. The task also allows the student to consider how confident they are on any given subject and choose (or be directed to) an appropriate level of extension exercise.

2013-09-21 19.38.47Not only does this cover you for most, if not all situations, where a student may complete a task, but is an excellent resource to have in class for students who need inspiration on additional revision or review tasks to consolidate their knowledge. This has engaged my students, added a little competition to task completion, and initiated some really interesting debates about the different skills required for different questions in examinations.

If you haven’t already, get over to and download your own learning ladder and learning ladder tasks. I can’t see why this can’t be used at every level in every subject – although some of the tasks may need to be altered to be more appropriate for learners lower down the key stages. If you do design new tasks consider sharing them on or post them in the comments. Also, with a little felt and a spare piece of cotton (and someone who can use a sewing machine – thank you Helen) you can make a great wall display for holding all the tasks.

Thanks to Charlotte for sharing such an excellent resource.

Flip your classroom with Resourcd.

Have you ever had a video you just wish you had time to watch in class? Do you want to engage your learners with something other than a hand-out for homework? Why not Flip your classroom? With Resourcd. you can now do this with ease.

There are lots of different ideas about Flipping your classroom, see this TED talk for more. But essentially you provide your learners with resources and videos to allow them to ‘learn’ the material as homework and then build on this with skills in your classroom.

Now with Resourcd Flipped you can try this, or just give a different type of homework for your students. Here is an example of a flipped session. You provide the student with a video and linked documents and activities that they complete outside of class (or in class if you are lucky enough to have a computer suite at your disposal).

See the video and try to Flip your first lesson. Enjoy!