Anxiety can feel like a “heart attack” and suffers describe it as feeling like ” you’re about to die.” The NHS describes a panic attack as “a rush of intense psychological and physical symptoms” and may also include an “overwhelming sense of fear, apprehension and anxiety”. None of my students have ever had a panic attack at the thought of a quick quiz, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel anxious or indeed that it feels low stakes to them.

We assume because the quiz doesn’t mean too much to us in terms of data that we are running a ‘low stakes quiz’, that decision is not ours. The person experiencing the test is the one who decides that. Recently, a student of mine had to be calmed down before an LRA lesson. They were having a panic attack. The student was well aware that the lesson only involved selecting a book and reading quietly. That didn’t matter, to them the exercise was fraught with things that could go wrong, and ways in which they felt threatened. It doesn’t make sense- but that’s almost the root cause of anxiety. An illogical fear that the individual cannot control.

This isn’t to say that we can’t run low stakes quizzes just in case, simply that we aren’t the ones who place value on the stakes. Therefore, the most important thing we can do when administering these quizzes is not check how they’ve done on question 8, the most important thing we can be doing is reading the room. Not helping with difficult questions, not telling them how long is left, and not checking how they did last time- just simply watching. How are they experiencing this quiz, are they in flow; equally are they struggling enough. Has Dani stopped because of fear of failure or because today is just one of those lazy days. If so, does Dani need a harder set of questions, or just a (metaphorical) kick up the proverbial!

It is vital that we check learning, and that we give students the benefit of the testing effect (Toppino & Cohen, 2009.) But, we must measure the cost. This is what many of us are already doing, but it feels worth saying given how much we speak about low stakes quizzes and their benefit. Because if we simply believe a quiz is low stakes because we say it is then we lose any value it may have had.

How do you ensure a quiz is genuinely low stakes?

Have a quiz sheet at the back of book for students to record their resutlts, instead of having them shout it out. Any practical solution to this problem is beneficial, but anything that adds too much time to your day is probably not worth the cost.

Alternatively, @ChrisRuneckles has suggested just having the class put their hands up for questions they got wrong, so that you can re-teach this section. Sometimes telling the students the answer might contribute to the testing effect but actually returning to the work and re-teaching (well) is surely the most high impact thing we could do.

Some of this comes down to our behaviour, and manner BUT most of it falls on judging how well you pitched it. Our rooms are packed with Goldilocks and if the work is too hard or too soft, they will take their minds elsewhere. Equally if we constantly aim to make the porridge/bed just right then we rob children of the chance to both embed/secure knowledge through giving them work they can definitely manage and to develop resilience when work is just out of their reach (or even massively out of their reach.)