Low Stakes Testing: Key principles for the classroom by @abowdenj

Research demonstrates that low stakes testing should be part of our everyday classroom practice and, as we are a school that focuses on evidence-informed best practice, we feel it should be championed across the school and in all subject areas. The points below come from an INSET presentation delivered by Martyn Essery and/or myself at various schools within the Herts & Bucks TSA.


  • The idea of the test being ‘low stakes’ is essential, it shouldn’t be a pass or fail assessment and should avoid creating unnecessary anxiety and stress.
  • Low stakes testing is a great way of getting pupils to retrieve information and track whether pupils remember key aspects of the subject taught. Having a codified (written down) list of knowledge is your starting point, such as Medium Term Plans/Schemes of Learning.
  • Academic research shows that the ‘testing effect’ helps with knowledge retention (see a selection of references below – these can be Googled to find the papers/material); however, pupils do need to have spaced tests overtime to combat the so-called ‘forgetting curb’. Here, testing involves active thinking and pupils are required to recall information (as opposed to re-learn it). It is therefore argued that this helps commit subject knowledge to their long term memory.
  • Running topic-based assessments (rather than a mix of retrieval topics) can give useful insight into pupil/class strengths and areas for development. Although interleaving is an important aspect of current thinking in terms of pedagogy, mixing up the actual assessment can lead to confusion, especially if knowledge is assessed within topic-based categories.

This is a re-blog of an article written by Andrew Jones, and published with kind permission. The original article was published at https://mrjoneswhiteboard.blog/2020/03/15/low-stakes-testing-key-principles-for-the-classroom/.


Types of low stakes testing can include:

  • Multiple choice quizzes (discussed in more detail below)
  • Quick quiz – answers in book (see the example below)
  • Keyword definitions (both ways)
  • Vocabulary tests/spelling tests
  • Labelling a diagram from memory
  • Recalling key facts/dates/people from memory
  • Hinge questions
Screen Shot 2020-03-04 at 08.44.39
Example of a quick quiz in geography


The types of test outlined above are very straight forward. However, despite this, question design is extremely important. Key aspects of sound question design would include:

  • Level of challenge – is the question pitched in a way that the pupil needs to think about the answer as opposed to immediately identify what is clearly correct (too easy) from having to take a complete guess (too hard)? Of course, a set of questions may involve a mixture of ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ questions – perhaps to build confidence in learners – but if pupils do not need to think about the correct answer, it is questionable whether they are recalling information in a way that aids memory.
  • Plausible distractors – in a similar vein to the above, if using multiple-choice tests ask yourself whether the choices are realistic. If the distractors are obviously incorrect, what is the point of asking the question in the first place?
  • Avoid silly questions – research also suggests we should avoid silly or joke questions. Essentially, these are not plausible distractors and the well-intentioned humour can distract from learning.
  • Additional pitfalls of low stakes testing, particularly multiple-choice tests, include questions being:
    • irrelevant or too ambiguous to comprehend;
    • poorly worded;
    • about right, but on a different topic.


Multiple choice questions are one of our main methods of low stakes testing at The Reach Free School, especially via the use of technology. Perhaps the easiest way to create a multiple-choice test is by using Google Forms, which has a quiz option. In addition to testing, using Google Forms allows you to:

  • record scores;
  • identify areas for targeted/whole class support;
  • add to trackers/spreadsheets (although, as low stakes, these should not be used for awarding current working grades).

Moreover, using Google Forms/Quizzes is relatively simple. All you need to do is:

  • head to forms.google.com;
  • click Settings → Quizzes → Make this a quiz;
  • experiment with creating your own quiz.

Other options for making online quizzes include:


  • Research has shown that ‘low stakes assessment’ can have powerful effects in relation to knowledge retention.
  • Establishing a routine of holding frequent ‘low stakes tests/assessments’ can help teachers understand class dynamics regarding areas of strength and development.
  • ‘Low stakes tests/assessment’ can take many different forms, and there are important considerations to make when designing multiple-choice quizzes.
  • Teachers should try different types of ‘low stakes assessment’ with their classes, and keep a record of the scores achieved.


Bjork, E. L., & Bjork, R. A. (2011). Making things hard on yourself, but in a good way: Creating desirable difficulties to enhance learning. In M. A. Gernsbacher, R. W. Pew, L. M. Hough, & J. R. Pomerantz (Eds.). Psychology and the real world: Essays illustrating fundamental contributions to society (pp. 56 – 64). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L. III, & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

McDermott, K. B., Agarwal, P. K., D’Antonio, L., Roediger, H. L. III, & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Both multiple-choice and short-answer quizzes enhance later exam performance in middle and high school classes. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 20(1), 3–21

Roediger, L. (2013). “Applying Cognitive Psychology to Education: Translational Educational Science” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14(1), 1-3

Roediger, H. L., Agarwal, P. K., McDaniel, M. A., & McDermott, K. B. (2011). Test-enhanced learning in the classroom: Long-term improvements from quizzing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 17, 382–395

You need to or Register to bookmark/favorite this content.

About UKEdChat Editorial 3187 Articles
The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.