Retrieval practice in primary science lessons

Key Stage 2 science sampling tests reveal a significant decline in attainment since national tests were abolished in 2009/10, with only 23% achieving an estimated expected standard in the 2016 samples compared to 88% achieving a level 4 in 2009 (Key Stage 2 science sampling 2016 Methodology note and outcomes July 2017, Standards & Testing Agency). The gap between pupil premium and non-pupil premium pupils is also significant., we wanted to test the effects of retrieval practice in primary science lessons, in the form of multiple-choice quizzing (MCQ), to examine how well pupils retain the content they have been taught.

Intervention pupils were assigned to answer multiple-choice questions using the quizzing app, Socrative, at the beginning of science lessons. Each 10-minute quiz tested pupils’ knowledge and application of information learnt from the previous lesson(s). Control groups were asked to reread materials from previous lessons for 10 minutes. Socrative quiz questions, test questions and reading materials were aligned to the National Curriculum objectives for each unit of work studied.

Summary of the evaluation

For the evaluation, 188 pupils were selected from Year 2–5 classes in two urban schools: Old Hill Primary and St James’ CofE Primary. Both schools are based in Sandwell and are comparable, with half the pupils eligible for pupil premium. Classes were randomly assigned to either intervention or control group. Pupils undertook a unit pre-test for baseline percentage measures and two further delayed tests once the unit of work was completed: after one week and 12 weeks respectively. Additionally, pupils and teachers completed a simple survey before and after the innovation, to measure attitudinal responses to science lessons, subject knowledge and tests.

Summary of findings

Intervention pupils attained an overall effect size of +0.26 for the one-week delayed test. More interesting, was the 12-week delayed intervention effect size of +0.58. The results suggest that pupils who practise multiple choice quizzing not only perform better in a one-week delayed test than their peers, but perform considerably better after 12 weeks, thus demonstrating a greater retention of learning when retrieval practice is employed in lessons. Results for pupil premium pupils are particularly of interest, revealing no loss of learning in Years 2 and 5 and only a 5% percentage loss in Year 3.


Lead school   

  • Old Hill Primary School and Nursery, Cradley Heath

Main findings

  • one-week delayed test effect size. = +0.26
  • 12-week delayed intervention effect size = +0.58.

Download the protocol document