We disagree about a lot of things in maths education but I think there’s one thing that makes total sense to everyone: we should never assess students on content they haven’t yet been taught. Doing so has absolutely no benefit to their learning.

Picture the scene:

A Year 10 student works hard and wants to do well. They enjoy maths and they always get good marks in end of topic tests. In the summer term they have been taught some challenging topics: probability, surface area and inequalities. They have a strong understanding of these topics.

As their end of year assessments approach, they put a lot of effort into their revision in all of their subjects. They diligently practise all the topics they’ve been taught in maths throughout Year 10, working particularly hard on surds and quadratics which they learnt back in September but feel a bit rusty on.

This student has been taught well and they have worked hard, so they feel confident and motivated. They look forward showing off what they've learnt in their end of year assessments. They want to make their parents and teachers proud.

The day of their end of year maths assessment arrives. They sit at their desk in the exam hall. Their stomach flips and their mind races as they look through the questions. It is a full GCSE paper. They haven’t been taught half of the content yet.

They leave the assessment with tears in their eyes. Not a single question came up on surface area and inequalities. All that work in the summer term and all that revision… and not a single question. And worse – there were big questions on vectors, iteration, circle theorems and functions. Five markers. But they’ve never been taught these topics so how could they possibly know how to do them?

This student is really upset. They worked so hard and they were not given the opportunity to show what they knew. What was the point in the questions on topics they'd not been taught? They don't understand. They ask their teacher who mumbles something about data. It makes no sense.

The child feels let down. They lose their confidence and their motivation.

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To those schools who still do this, I would love to know what your rationale is. In the past I have heard teachers try to justify it but none of their reasons make any sense to me.

We wouldn't dream of giving A level students a full A level paper halfway through the course, so why on earth would we do it at GCSE? An English teacher wouldn't dream of giving an assessment on a book they hadn't yet taught.

It is not difficult to make a more suitable Year 10 assessment. The easiest approach is to take a past GCSE paper (choose one that specifically includes questions on topics you've recently taught) and remove the question on topics they haven't studied yet. Replace them with equivalent difficulty questions on topics that they have studied. Simple. It doesn't take long. If you're struggling to do this, feel free to email me for support and advice.