Using Quick Key to deploy and analyse high quality diagnostic assessment items in geography

The geography department at Soar Valley College have been working together to evaluate the use of the Quick Key app for supporting formative assessment practices. Quick Key uses technology similar to optical mark recognition to speed up the process of capturing formative assessment information. The key focus of the project is the use of formative assessment strategies for informing and improving instruction.

Simon Renshaw, project lead, has compiled a detailed report on the department’s work- including information on forming hinge questions and feedback gathered from learners:

Soar Valley Quick Keys Final Report 140618 (Word)

Soar Valley Quick Keys Final Report 140618 (PDF)

Developing Hinge Questions

High quality diagnostic assessment items, such as hinge questions have the potential to elicit evidence of student achievement so that subsequent instruction can be improved by signposting where intervention is required to maximise learning gains at both a student and whole class level.

On his blog, history teacher Harry Fletcher-Wood describes a hinge question as a technique which allows the teacher to check for understanding at a ‘hinge-point’ in a learning sequence, because of two inter-linked meanings:

(1)  It is the point where you move from one key idea/activity/point on to another.

(2)  Understanding the content before the hinge is a prerequisite for the next phase of learning.

Hinge questions are multiple choice assessment items which require all students to respond to the question. This then allows the teacher to quickly gather information on how each student is progressing in their understanding. Hinge questions are a powerful pedagogic strategy as their deployment creates an opportunity to make visible to the teacher any (inevitable) unintended misconceptions in student understanding so the teacher can then make adjustments based on the evidence they receive from students.

Quick Key

Quick Key is an app which turns iOS devices into an optical scanner to grade multiple choice assessments on paper, up to 30 questions long. Quick Key also creates reports which allow the teacher to analyse both student and class performance. This data can then also be exported into a spreadsheet format.

The department first decided to work collaboratively to create a suite of multiple choice assessment items as a revision summary for a range of GCSE topics which utilised a hinge question methodology. Several have now been created and have subsequently been hosted on the Internet Geography website and are available for download.

Interestingly, Dylan Wiliam provided a critique of the department’s approach during the project via Twitter and noted that once we moved from using single question items in class to a suite of questions, the description of the assessment items as hinge questions was incorrect. In his view, hinge questions are single question items deployed live in class. Taking his feedback on board, in that sense, what we created for our GCSE students is perhaps better described as “a series of diagnostic questions informed by a hinge question methodology”. However, the data which these assessment items create through Quick Key stays true to the principals of formative assessment in the sense that it rapidly provides exceptionally useful information on which to inform modifications to future instruction.


The BSF innovation project facilitated excellent professional conversations within the project team in relation to developing geographical understanding and pedagogy. The project team’s enthusiasm and commitment to supporting each other as they collaboratively refined their diagnostic assessment items provided fertile ground for professional dialogue throughout the project.

Encouragingly, between November 2013 and May 2014 there have been several opportunities to share project work within and beyond the college.

(1)  The project leader aimed to keep a record of key events and learning on his blog

(2)  On a whole school level, in December the project team were asked to deliver a “By staff, for staff” CPD session on hinge questions and Quick Key. The feedback from the first staff session was overwhelmingly positive and the team have been asked to offer the session again in June.

(3)  Twitter was a spectacular source of inspiration during the project and the Quick Key founder Walter Duncan @4_teachers remains a constant source of positivity and encouragement.

(4)  In March the project lead delivered a 7 minute presentation on our work to date as part of the DigiLit sponsored Teach Meet. The video of the TeachMeet presentation can found here.

(5)  In April, the project also featured as part of a workshop organised by the Geographical Association’s Secondary Phase Committee, at their annual conference at Guildford University.  Again, despite only being a component part of the workshop, the feedback received was encouraging.

Next Steps

Following our second evaluation of the project, the team felt that the purchase of Apple TVs for each iPad would add further value to the project. The rationale here was that displaying correct answers following an assessment, displaying the iPad screen would create a more efficient debrief process post scanning. In addition, displaying whole class results by questions allows students to see how the class performed as a whole. This allows the class to appreciate how they are progressing as a group of learners. Decisions to focus on particular areas for development can then be negotiated rather than dictated by the teacher.

Following engagement with this BSF innovation project, the department feel certain that our new plans for KS3/4 will involve the use of hinge questions and Quick Key to support pupil progress.

Looking ahead, it is inevitable now that geography teachers have iPads as a resource they can deploy, further projects with the iPads will be developed. With such rapid growth in the range of apps which can be used in classrooms coupled with the capacity to display teacher iPad screens to the whole class, this project has provided the resources to support future teaching and learning innovation at Soar Valley.

The project team at Soar Valley would like to thank Lucy, Josie and the wider BSF team for their continued support and words of encouragement throughout the project.

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