Testing as Learning

The Director of Huntington Research School, Alex Quigley, suggests that it can be difficult to divorce the concept of high-stakes national tests (KS2 SATS, GCSEs, A-Levels) from informal, regular formative tests in classrooms. Regardless of our individual perspectives on national tests, the value of teachers issuing tests (rebranded as ‘quizzes’ as Alex suggests to avoid ours or our pupil’s aversion) for improving learning in classrooms has a promising evidence base behind it.[1]

Testing as learning is a slight deviation from the core purpose of this guide. However, the important point to consider here is that testing does not simply have to be about providing some assessment data for a termly 'data capture'; it has value as a learning tool, and the data generated helps diagnosis about learning and informs future lesson planning. [2]

Form follows Function

Before we delve deeper into the potential uses of testing it is important to keep in mind that ‘form follows function’ when considering how to use testing as a specific form of assessment in school. This means that a test is likely to be most useful if you can define the purpose (function) of the assessment and the data that it produces will be used to drive decisions about learning. This might seem semantic but an important principle underlies this: the purpose of the assessment helps define the type and timing of the assessment.

As an example, if the purpose of a maths assessment is to identify progress made by children in understanding numbers and operations in Year 7. The decision regarding the timing of this assessment will be informed by this purpose. To detect progress made, we need to allow sufficient time for that progress to occur (and the learning to solidify). Often the timing of assessments in school are driven by the need to input half-termly assessment data. The compatibility of the two purposes needs to be thought through carefully if we are to get the most out of an assessment.

1. By using self-testing or practice assessments on material students are to learn, Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan and Willingham (2013) suggest that assessment itself can have a positive impact on learning.

2. Quigley, A.J. (2016), The Confident Teacher, Routledge, London.


1. Look at a handful of assessments used in your school and ask: ‘Is this assessment closely aligned with important learning outcomes in the content area taught?’

2. Challenge yourself and colleagues to give an example of an important concept you / they teach and then describe how mastery of the concept would be assessed.