Baseline assessments

Sometimes known as pre-testing, or formative assessment, a baseline is used to determine the prior knowledge that students have about a topic before it is taught.

Baseline assessments also show students an overview of what they will be learning in a topic and this can have a positive impact on knowledge retention when they learn the content later.

Using the topic filters in class settings, teachers can select only the topic about to be taught and direct students to use Terms reflective mode.

Collecting data

Students consider each term one at a time, flip the card and read the definition. The number of terms in the topic is shown underneath the card.


Once they have read the definition, students must RAG rate their current understanding.

  • Red = no knowledge
  • Amber = some knowledge
  • Green = understood already

The research

Pre-testing can feel like you are setting students up to fail, especially for those students whose confidence is related to consistent success in the classroom.

However, research challenges assumptions that failure in a pre-test is a problem. Pan & Sana (2021) found that taking a test before reading a text passage helped people to remember what they had subsequently read. It was found that pre-testing was even more productive than taking a test after studying a text.

Interest, curiosity and a desire to make sense of what a student was being tested on helps retention of knowledge during the learning process.

That said, to be successful a pre-test needs to be low-stakes. A simple RAG rating against subject specific terminology in a topic enables students to know what they are going to learn while providing formative assessment data for the teacher. Teachers can ensure they spend more time on the areas of the topic that are least understood.

Pan, S & Sana, F (2021) Pretesting versus posttesting: comparing the pedagogical benefits of errorful gerneration and retrieval practice. Journal of Experimental Psychology Applied 27: 1-21

It should be anticipated that most of the terms will be set to red since the students are yet to be taught the content. However, this does give them an insight into what they will be learning in advance.


This is a very low-stakes baseline assessment, but that's important because it can be demotivating if a student is presented with a lot of questions they cannot answer. The purpose of the baseline is to broadly indicate where the current understanding of the class is. This is better than multiple choice questions that could result in inaccurate data because students can guess correctly without knowing the answer. In a snapshot assessment this is not very helpful.

After the baseline assessment, a teacher can:

  • Use the Analytics - Smart Terms - Student overview report to see understanding of a topic at a glance.
  • Use the Analytics - Smart Terms - Terms analysis report to see the top ten least understood terms.

More challenge

Alternatively, teachers can use interactive instead of reflective mode to capture more data. This mode presents students with the term in a "describe" command word format. E.g. "Describe the term register." Students are then challenged to write a definition. Teachers can read these all at a glance for each term to spot the misconceptions in the class.