Redefining revision as continual practice

Step 10

Baseline assessments

Sometimes known as pre-testing, a baseline or formative assessment 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.

increases memory retention

easy to administer

quick to do

formative assessment

demonstrate progression



easy to



to do





Introducing students to the subject-specific terms that they will be learning in a topic before it is taught has a positive effect on memory retention later.

Student revising


1. Topics

Set the topic filters for the class to "Teacher controlled" and include just the topic / subtopics that are about to be taught. Remember to select "Save changes".

2. Terms

Ask students to select "Terms" mode and use the deck builder to select reflective terms, regular mode, "not assessed".

3. Activity

Ask students to look at each term and think about what they might already know about this. Flip the card and add a RAG rating. In the “regular assessment” box, students should select:

- Red if they have no knowledge.

- Yellow if they had some knowledge.

- Green only if they knew all the points listed.

4. Reports

Use the Terms analytics reports to gain an oversight of the current knowledge.

Why use Smart Revise

Formative assessments are quick and easy to administer.

The subject specific terminology that students need to know in each topic has been collated for you.

Although you could use Tasks to set a baseline assessment too, why set students up to fail answering questions they probably don't know the answer to? They may also generate inaccurate data because they guess correctly the answer to multiple-choice questions. Low-stakes key terminology checks are just as effective for formative assessment and don't generate any marking.

Present to students what they will be learning in advance of teaching a topic.

The research says that:

  • 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. A low-stakes assessment of knowledge before teaching the content of a topic can actually help students link terms to what they are taught later.
  • Taking a test before reading a text passage helped people to remember what they had subsequently read.

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

Top tips

Remember to change the topic filters back to everything that has been taught to date after the review.

Analytic report topic filters only apply to reports, they don't affect topic filters for the questions students answer.

The process of conducting a baseline assessment is almost the same as the process for a monthly review. This will show students they are progressing in their learning as their RAG rating of key terms improves.