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How EVERY student can achieve academic success

Updated: Mar 14

Let me tell you how a tiny, traditional test can help all students learn and see how academically amazing they are.  Yes, all students.  You can skip straight to that part here...or you can keep reading to get a bit of back story!


Teacher buddies, it seems to me we’ve fallen into a bit of a trap, a whirlwhind of ‘TikTok lessons’ – fast-paced and entertaining – with work completed online or in discussions.  Students are learning through repetition ‘in authentic contexts’ designed to embed skills and understanding, and to enhance critical thinking.  And yes, of course (before you all shoot me down!) bits and bobs stick.  However, this can also be a bit like doom-scrolling through TikTok videos – most of the content forgotten by tomorrow and certainly none of it sticking a lifetime. 


In other words, is there really a concrete ‘take-away’, something committed to memory at the end of each lesson?  Can our students get to the end of a unit of work and say, ‘I know these 20 things’?   Or are we finding that, in Year 13, our students still can’t tell the difference between a simile and a metaphor and still don’t know a complete sentence needs a subject and a verb.


The trouble with ‘TikTok lessons’ is that:

  • In many classes now, students aren’t working in books to write down teacher’s ‘how to’ notes and examples, then practicing underneath. They have little ‘tangible evidence’ to literally hold in their little hot hands, wave around and say, “I learned all this stuff!”

  • Students rarely have to rote learn anything.


You could have me practicing my sentences in te reo Māori for an hour a day, learning this with all the different learning styles under the pedagogical sun, but progress will be like flogging a dead horse if I haven’t looked over my class notes and committed to memory my tenses and possessive pronouns.


Rote learning.  Take the mickey out of lessons from the ‘dark ages’ all you like, but those students came out knowing what figurative language was, their times tables, the periodic timetable, the capital cities of 50 countries ... all by the age of ten.   And, cards on the table, I’m pretty sure their ‘critical thinking’ skills as adults were as good as, if not better, than many young adults these days.  If we don’t ‘make’ our students stop and take stock, to rote learn key vocabulary, names, processes, concepts,


When it’s good to cheat in a test

My father was a high school principal who wanted every student to know they could succeed.  One of the things he brought in was ‘Attainment Goal Testing’.  My brother and I (and all our friends) roll our eyes when we remember AG tests...but we'll also tell you that:

  • All the key information we know now was learned in AG tests!

  • Our results made us feel like we were the bomb.

  • All our classmates felt like they were the bomb. [Sorry mum, felt as though...]

 How did we do it? We were given the test, and the answers, the week before we sat it to commit it all to memory!

 So, what’s an AG test?

 Every six weeks or so, teachers across the school would give students an AG test.  This was about 20 questions, generally on one piece of paper that included the key points that we really must know from our just-completed unit (or section) of work.  We wouldn’t sit it then; instead, we’d go through it as a class and write in all the answers.  The teacher might first get us to go through our books (because WE HAD BOOKS OF NOTES!) and work with a mate to fill in the answers.  Then we’d go over them with the class.  Once everyone had the correct answers written into the test (short answers – one word, one label, one sentence answers) we’d take it home for a week or so and commit it to memory.


Then it was AG test week.  We’d sit our tests in each class, under test conditions of course.  The ‘pass’ mark was 80%.  At the end of AG test week, we’d all get a wee report to take home with the subject and the mark beside it. 

The pass mark? 80%

 Here’s the thing: everyone becomes a genius. 

Not only did we commit key things to memory, but the students that failed all through school nailed it.  Imagine having failed at academic work all your life, then suddenly you get to take home a report full of fantastic marks. Imagine being the caregiver, who’s child has always struggled academically, getting a report like this:

English – 95%

Maths – 90%

Science – 100%

Food Technology – 95%

Art – 100%

Economics – 85%

For a student, suddenly, you not only know stuff, you're achieving, succeeding, kicking it with the rest of the class.  Can you imagine how good it would feel if school had only ever been a struggle? 

Imagine having failed at academic work all your life, then suddenly you get to take home a report full of fantastic marks.

AG tests were treated seriously. This not Kahoot! Success was insisted upon. The teacher or dean might have a few words.  You might have to stay in at lunch and rote learn and resit!  Shock!  Horror!  A lunchtime!  Yes, work ethic was important. As it should be now.


Report showing how a student achieved academic success
Imagine caregivers receiving a report like this. Even those whose children have always struggled.

How you can organise your own AG Tests:

  1. Tell students they’ll have an Attainment Goal test at the end of week 5 and week 10 each term or at the end of each unit or section of work – whatever makes sense to you and your students.  Explain to them the logistics, and stress the seriousness of the testing and their efforts.  (They’ll laugh because what’s the point in a test where you know all the answers!  But you’ll have the last laugh because that’s exactly it – you want them to know these key points, right?!)

  2. Make up 20 short-answer questions (or about that number). Eg: things that require the labeling of a diagram, multichoice or one word/sentence answers. Leave gaps on the page for students to write in the answers.

  3. Give the test out to each student and ensure they all write in the correct answers.  NO ONLINE STUFF. They need that tangible bit of paper, that thing to hold and write on.  Make sure they name their test.  This gives them a sense of ownership, plus there’s always one that gets dropped on the floor or left behind. (They should glue it into their books.) 

  4. Students take the test home with them.  If they lose it, they must photocopy a friend’s copy.  They need to understand that this is serious and that the pass mark is 80%.  (BTW, work in percentages so it doesn’t matter how many questions you have.)  Make sure they’re clear about the test date.

  5. Test day comes and it’s test conditions.  You give out blank copies of the same test.  (You could change the order of the questions though!  Maybe warn them that might happen when you first give the test out!).  Students sit the test, then hand them in. (Takes about 10-15 minutes usually.)

  6. YOU mark them.  (It’s quick and painless.)

  7. Return the tests the next day. (And frolic in the joy of seeing your students achieve academic success!)

  8. If you’re keen, send a note home to parents to let them know results.  Mine explains the test on there too.  I’d fill these out as I marked the tests. Grab this from my freebies library here.  (You must log in to the website, then use the dropdown box to go to Team FREEBIES.)  Alternatively click here to get it sent to you.



  • Students learn what they must know.

  • Students connect work with success.

  • Students connect school, or at least your subject, with success.

  • Students learn how to rote learn (yes, this is an important skill and part of learning).

  • Students get that mental ‘wrapping up’ of a unit or section of work as they go over what they’ve learned so far.

  • Student – all students – succeed at a high level – I mean 95%?  Far out!  100%?  Yes, yes, yes!

Now, what are 10-20 things your students learned in the last four weeks or in that last unit of work?

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