Retrieval Practice

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For my latest slides on Retrieval Practice and other learning strategies from the ATM & MA 2019 Conference, please see: Making Maths Stick – Colleen Young April 2019 (PowerPoint version) or Making Maths Stick – Colleen Young April 2019 for a pdf.

All the resources and reading from the presentation can be found below.

See also the excellent revision activities in Matt Woodfine’s Maths White Board.

Maths White Board – Matt Woodfine

Retrieval Practice is not all about quizzes – low stakes quizzes play an important part but there are many other ways to help your students get the learning out! We spend much time thinking about how to get the learning in – think in your lesson planning how to get the learning out of your students! How can you help them actively recall and apply their learning?

If you are looking for particular resources or have questions/suggestions/observations, please contact me.

The slides include all the various resources I mentioned including SENECA Learning which looks excellent.

Highly recommended is the Retrieval Practice website from Dr Pooja K. Agarwal.

Links to the resources and further reading:

From The Learning Scientists see these valuable resources to support the techniques described here. Note the excellent downloadable materials on study strategies. Each strategy is backed up by research.


Rosenshine’s ‘Principles of Instruction‘ provides a very valuable list of research strategies teachers should know about and I believe it is well worth asking ourselves if we are incorporating these strategies regularly into our lessons. This UNESCO pamphlet on the Principles offers further reading and for a very clear summary of these principles of instruction, see from TeachingHOW2s this excellent summary; stick this poster on your walls! (Alternative version – yellow background).
Principles of Instruction
Links and Further Reading

A really useful source of questions that can be used for Aural tests are the mental tests from CIMT; these are included with their resources for Years 7, 8 and 9 and also for GCSE. For Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14) scroll down this page for the Year 7, Year 8 and Year 9 course material, the resources include mental tests as part of the teacher support material. On the GCSE page scroll down to the teacher support material and note the mental tests available for most units, see this on Formulae for example.

White Rose Year 7 assessment

From White Rose Maths have a look at their end of block assessments for Years 7, 8 and 10; all come with solutions.

This Custom Starter from Transum, shown below, allows teachers to select the number of questions and the topics to include; scroll down the page and choose the topics you want from the Concept Selection.
Transum Revision

It is possible to save a particular selection of topics as the URL for your selection will be generated. It is also possible to drag the panels so your questions are displayed in the desired order. The beginning of a lesson can be an ideal time to review previous learning, starters like this can be ideal.

The excellent MathsBot site also provides Starters which can be customised. Also from Jonathan Hall try his wonderful

non examples Jonathan Hall – Jonathan Hall

Included with Spot the mistake we have excellent resources from Andy Lutwyche, look at his excellent Erica’s Errors series and if we check on TES, these free resources also include plenty of errors from Clumsy Clive! I have found these work really well in class.

Building Blocks Andy Lutwyche
Building Blocks – Andy Lutwyche

Also from Andy Lutwyche try his excellent Building Blocks series which have questions to take students through the various skills required for each topic and his series of ‘The answer is …What was the question?’ resources. A variety of topics are covered and all answers are provided.
Here's the answer...

On a similar theme, we could also use David Morse’s First Steps series on  Maths4Everyone. This is an outstanding and comprehensive set of resources for Primary and Secondary. Note What’s New at the top of the site where you can keep an eye on the latest additions to the collection. The Click-to-zoom feature of the Worksheet collection works so well for display on screen.
Maths4Everyone David Morse

Don Steward Multiple Choice

Don Steward has a collection of practice and quiz questions which includes multiple choice quizzes, see this on rearrangement for example.

Try Minimally Different Problems from Jess, (@FortyNineCubed on Twitter)

Quadratic Minimally Different Problems

Note the menu on the right-hand side to help you find exercises.
As Jess says, text exercises can become too varied too quickly, so perhaps try some minimally different problems to explore what happens with these small changes.

Here, Graspable Math took one of Dave Taylor’s wonderful Increasingly Difficult Question sets and created a canvas of the problems.
IDQ Changing the Subject

The Standards Unit is an outstanding resource with so many excellent activities for the secondary classroom. Start by reading Improving Learning in Mathematics – Malcolm Swan

Home page
OCR GCSE 9-1 Check in tests

From OCR, their GCSE Check in tests are useful for KS3 as well as GCSE. Consider the language of functionsfor example, the first questions could be used with students as young as Year 7. Full details of the Check in tests can be found in the Teachers’ Guide. Each test is of a similar format in that Questions 1-5 cover procedural calculations (AO1), questions 6-8 require the ability to reason and communicate mathematically (AO2) and questions 9-10 relate to problem solving tasks (AO3). There is also an extension task. Very usefully (thank you OCR) the Check in tests are also available in Word Format. Check in tests are also available for A Level.

With all A Level courses now linear, Retrieval Practice is essential. From crashMaths these AS Maths Key Skills Check worksheets are very valuable for Year 13 in the second year of their A Level course. The Skills Checks are all on Pure Mathematics. My Year 13 students have now completed several of these as starters and appreciate them very much. I have found I can snip the questions and get 4 copies on an A4 sheet – so very economical too!

crashMaths Skills Check

For A Level try these A Level texts From Hodder, for example, we see My Revision Notes for Pure Mathematics (MEI).

Hodder examples
Hodder – Solutions for My Revision Notes (Pure)

Noting the link (on the left) to Answers and Full Worked Solutions, I was curious to see this document. Access to this resource requires registration (free) which I would highly recommend as this free resource is simply excellent. In 146 pages, the questions and fully worked solutions for each section are provided, the categories are ‘Target your revision’, ‘Exam-style’ and ‘Review’ questions. Whilst the document refers to the book, it is complete in itself. I do have and like this book, it is clear, attractively presented and written by very experienced authors. The companion Applied book, similarly has fully worked solutions.

A very useful resource is this booklet of sample questions which has been created as part of a project funded by the NCETM on Questioning the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy. I have tried many of these in the classroom, they really make students think and encourage a deep understanding. Not just for Maths but applicable to any subject I’d recommend very highly the Brighton and Hove Assessment for Learning  project – Questions worth asking. This includes many practical suggestions for the classroom and concludes with a self-analysis. The project includes the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy as an aid to thinking about the level of challenge/thinking required for a question.

Seneca Learning

SENECA Learning is a free revision and homework platform, Seneca has applied research in cognitive neuroscience and psychology to provide an engaging environment for students. To answer the question What is Seneca? we can turn to this blog post from Stephen Wilks.

Key Stage 3 and Exam Board specific GCSE content is available, my students have tried this and reacted very favourably; the step by step explanations and examples are very helpful indeed. My students certainly liked the AQA Maths sections we looked at – they also use the many other subjects available.

Further Reading

Retrieval Practice Guides

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