How I… use knowledge quizzes at A level – Joe Kinnaird

As a department, we have been trialling the use of knowledge quizzes with A level classes.  This blog will look to set out why we use them, how they are structured and the benefits we have found in their implementation.

Why we use knowledge quizzes with our A level students? 

Upon first glance at an RE A-level specification, the amount of content we need to cover in such little time is daunting.  Whilst we spend plenty of time considering how best to explore these ideas with our students, we felt that we had not spent enough time reflecting upon how best to assess the students’ understanding of the material we covered.

In previous years, we would have finished a unit of work by setting an essay question based on the topic.  However, we came to recognise that during the marking of essays, we would spend copious amounts of time dealing with knowledge errors within essays.  Whilst we would often use low stakes quizzes at the start of a lesson, we wanted to create a form of assessment at the end of the topic which would assess students’ understanding of the core knowledge within the unit before we proceeded to tackle an essay question.

How are they structured?

Here are the sections from a knowledge quiz set on the OCR topic of Ancient philosophical influences.  It would be the first knowledge test which Year 12 students would complete.  With future quizzes, each section may contain questions based upon a mix of topics.  This cumulative element would ensure that students are constantly revisiting prior material.

The quiz would start with asking students to define three key terms from the current topic.

Multiple-choice questions are a really useful tool in identifying any misconceptions students may have. When creating these multiple-choice questions, it is essential that they are rigorous and diagnostic.  These multiple-choice questions might be based on key terms, scholars or ideas students have explored in the topic.

These short recall questions allow students to elaborate further on core knowledge within the topic.

A longer explanation question allows students to demonstrate more in-depth understanding of core knowledge.

The final section of the quiz allows students to evaluate key ideas within the topic.  These points of evaluation are taken from the discussion points within the OCR A level specification for each topic.

As students to progress throughout the course, these knowledge quizzes could be expanded in various ways to assess core knowledge.  These include:

  • Timelines to sort scholars into chronological order
  • An extract from a philosophical or Biblical text which students have to summarise
  • Providing a relevant quote to support a specific idea or scholar.

Here is one example taken from a knowledge quiz on the Developments in Christian Thought topic Death and the Afterlife:

In addition, as students progress throughout the course and we have taught essay writing knowledge quizzes can be used to assess their disciplinary knowledge in ways such as:

  • Students selecting the best opening sentence for a paragraph in response to specific essay question
  • Students selecting the grammatically correct sentence
  • Asking students to highlight any structural errors within a paragraph

How are we using these knowledge quizzes?

We plan to use these knowledge quizzes at the end of each A-level unit prior to students completing an essay on the topic.  In addition, we have implemented them as part of our Year 12 mock exam.  In the past, the Year 12 Philosophy mock exam would have consisted of a choice of four essay questions with students answering three questions.  However, discussions with the rest of my department suggested that our traditional form of assessment for a mock exam may not be best for long term learning or provide us with a full picture of their knowledge of content covered prior to sitting the mock exam.

Firstly, students may have only completed a small amount of essay questions prior to this exam.  The task of completing three essay questions within timed conditions is something which they would not be suitably prepared for. Prior to them sitting the exam, we can already anticipate that some students may not complete all three questions within time allowed.  Secondly, this traditional form of assessment does not allow us to check the students’ understanding of the full breadth of A-level specification which they have covered prior to this exam.  Therefore, we included several knowledge quizzes within their mock exam as well as asking students to answer one essay question.

What are the benefits of using knowledge quizzes with A-level students?

From implementing knowledge quizzes within A-level teaching, we have seen various benefits for students and teachers:

  • Quick to mark – usually 10/15 minutes per quiz
  • Allows for assessment of more aspects of a specification than an essay question
  • Allows students to check their understanding of a topic before preparing for an essay question
  • Cumulative element allows students to constantly revisit prior material


Joe Kinnaird Head of KS3 RE at the Coopers’ Company and Coborn School



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