Retrieval Practice for Year 13

Following on from my last post, I wanted to share what I have been doing with Year 13 to help them with the knowledge recall for the A-Level. I currently teach the uber-popular AQA 1C Tudors unit and I’m attaching my revision quizzes at the end of this post, if you’d like to pinch them.

I started using these quizzes last year with the aim of setting them once a month in Year 13, though I never quite got that far because, covid. I read Mary James’s chapter Assessment and Learning in ‘Unlocking Assessment’, which sets out three different forms learning can take and therefore be assessed, and I was particularly interested in the section describing cognitive constructivism (p25 in my copy) – that is, that learning is an active process of meaning-making, rather than a simple absorption of knowledge.  I therefore wanted to do something a bit meatier than any of the retrieval exercises I use lower down the school and to test something more than just regurgitation of key dates and facts – though somehow to include that as well, because that detailed knowledge does seem to make the difference at the top end. I was reading Jonathan Grande’s post on checking different types of understanding recently and it reminded me that I was going to share what I’ve been asking students to do with these quizzes and what I learn from what they do.

The quiz begins with some short answer, surface knowledge questions – what is x, when did y happen etc.

It then moves on to ask students to identify five different key figures from the course, with a follow up question to ask them which figure they would use for each of five different question types and the reasons why they would use them.


When I initially set the quiz pictured, I had forgotten how I formulated this question and ended up with something much less useful. In the event column, I had written a description of the person – so, for Cranmer, I wrote ‘Archbishop of Canterbury under three monarchs’ and, thus, a few students wrote this fact in against Cranmer in the question above (and one against Wolsey, smh). This was minorly useful to me as a diagnostic because it indicated to me that I needed to spend a bit more time reviewing Cranmer, but it did not do what I wanted, which was to encourage students to match key individuals to the themes from the course that, presumbly, drive the questions on the exam paper, thus assessing their application of the knowledge they have learned, as well as just their regurgitation of it.

I also hope that, by process of elimination, they will match up individuals they might not necessarily think of when considering the themes. Using Foreign Policy as my example here, my students always seem to struggle with this as a theme: in their essays they love to write about the minutiae of treaties and battles, making judgements about each one individually, rather than drawing out themes over a period. So, I put Margaret Tudor in here to represent the idea of marriage as a foreign policy tool, something I feel like I am endlessly banging on about but never seems to settle in student consciousness as well as I’d like.

Following on from that, I have a few questions that invite students to name a number of different things in different categories – three – followed by a few ‘Describe’ questions, which I score out of five, and a couple of ‘Explain’ questions, which I score out of ten. This is not particularly scientific and I don’t have a markscheme, I just tick where there is good evidence of learning. It doesn’t necessarily reflect the sort of questions that they get in the exam but it does allow me to ask some quite interesting things that give me insights into how the material is organised in student minds. An example of this is on Quiz 4, where I ask which Tudor monarch is most similar to Henry VII and why. I know what I think the answer to this is (I would say Elizabeth I – thrifty, preferred to avoid war) but the range of answers that came back was exciting and kicked off some excellent discussion when we did the feedback. There were also some helpful errors in there that I was able to pick up – that Henry VIII was as good with money as his dad, for example – that I’m not sure I would have come across otherwise.

I also invite my students to provide graphic representations to answer these questions if they would prefer it over writing paragraphs, which produces some really good insight for me into their understanding of another core theme of the course – change and continuity over time. It is unlikely that they will get away with covering just one monarch in all three questions they attempt in the exam and the ability to draw contrasts between the different reigns is therefore likely to be of great importance.


This image is a student’s description of the process of the Reformation. At a glance, I can tell that they know the general story of the Reformation – what caused it, some of the events, one of the impacts. The chronology is OK. The Act of First Fruits and Tenths is something I repeat often as an example of Reformation legislation so I am not surprised to see it. I am a little surprised not to see a mentioned of the Act of Supremacy. I am less convinced about their grasp on what happened after the Dissolution and, indeed, maybe need to revise my idea of what I think of as ‘the Reformation’ – did I confuse the issue by stipulating 1540? Perhaps it would have been better to ask students to describe the actions of the Reformation Parliament, although I still think that, in a breadth unit, that level of knowledge is probably superfluous for most students. So, lots coming out of that quiz for me and this was a quicker way of assessing than a long essay.


This was the last question on the last quiz. It is bigger in scope than an exam question would be because it spans the whole Tudor period, but ever since attending a workshop with Steve Mastin at SHP, I have tried to write questions that are more expansive than what they might bump into on the exam, since if they’re done something harder than that to practice, the exam should be a walk in the park. Interestingly I didn’t stipulate in the question that a chart would be a good way to organise but this is one of a few students who chose to lay out a plan in a more graphic way, following up with a conclusion. Once again, this question is doing a lot of heavy lifting for me in terms of understanding their mental models. When you’re judging the threat of rebellion over a longer time period, that judgement is stronger when made comparatively or as a generalisation, rather than looking at each rebellion in isolation, and this charting has helped my student to draw out the different criteria for judging threat – for example, motive, just seen in the paragraph, for example. It opened the conversation about how we make these judgements and provided an insight into where my teaching had been most effective (probably need to go back over the Amicable Grant and Lady Jane Grey…)

As promised, the quizzes – with the caveat that I am not particularly formal in the way I write for my students, so you may want to adjust some of the wording. This is my last whirl through with 1C so I expect I will be doing the same with the OCR Britain 1930-97 course for next year: drop me a message if you fancy collaborating.

Tudors Subject Knowledge Quiz 1

Tudors Subject Knowledge Quiz 2

Tudors Subject Knowledge Quiz 3

Tudors Subject Knowledge Quiz 4

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