Retrieval Practice – Reducing Scaffolding

I’ve been thinking quite a lot recently about reducing scaffolding when using retrieval practice strategies. Multiple-choice questions are one of the most commonly used retrieval practice techniques; however, as discussed in the recent blog post, they have limitations – namely, they always include a correct answer. This is not to say they don’t have a use in retrieval practice. However, we should be aiming for students to complete short-answer questions for retrieval practice as they are required to produce the answer.

So, how can we achieve this? One possible approach might be to use multiple-choice questions in the first stage of retrieval practice. These could be used as starter activities or for homework. Once students demonstrate success using multiple-choice questions, the scaffolding could be reduced by providing students with short answer questions in the form of a crossword. Using a crossword, students can complete the questions in any order they like and, for those they find more challenging, the addition of letters from other words can prompt and support them in answering.

Removing Scaffolding

Removing Scaffolding

The final step is the introduction of short answer questions. If students continue to need support, the first letter of each answer could be provided. This can then be removed later.

To support geography teachers in reducing scaffolding for retrieval practice, a range of new resources are being developed for subscribers to Internet Geography Plus. We are creating a bank of resources in the form of multiple-choice questions, crosswords and short answer quizzes, each of which is available as an electronic document and interactive resource.

Internet Geography Plus subscribers already have access to a significant bank of multiple-choice questions in MS Word format and fully-customisable MS Forms and Google Forms Quizzes. In addition, we are currently working on crosswords and short answer quizzes.

Retrieval Practice: Multiple-choice or short answer questions?

Multiple Choice or Short Answer?

Saturday morning homework with the preteen – the part of the week when time normally standstill. A couple of weeks ago, biology homework involved her completing two quizzes. The first quiz was a multiple-choice quiz; the second was a short answer quiz. Both were based on content from the previous lesson. So, how did it go? My preteen flies through the multiple-choice quiz, getting all the questions correct on her first attempt. Next up, the short answer quiz. Despite covering similar content, she finds it a lot more challenging and finishes with a score of 63%.

After the homework was complete, we discussed the two approaches to quizzing. My preteen told me she preferred the multiple-choice questions because she found them easier to complete. Why? Because in many cases, she quickly identified the correct answer as seeing it triggered a memory response. When she did not immediately know the correct answer to a multiple-choice question, she worked through a process of elimination to find the correct answer. She also correctly guessed a couple of solutions. However, the short answer questions she found more challenging because she could not always recall the correct answer without a prompt being available. This is likely because she had not yet fully learned what had been taught in class. At this point, I will also add, that after looking at the multiple-choice questions, the distractors were not always plausible!

What surprised me was the difference in my daughter’s performance using multiple choice and short answer questions. Had my daughter not completed the short answer questions, both she and I might have come to the false conclusion that she knew her stuff about the topic being tested. Seeing my daughter using the two quiz formats for the first time led me to stop and reflect on how quizzing is used in learning.

A range of research suggests low-stakes testing/quizzing is beneficial to learners. There is no denying that frequent quizzing can reduce test anxiety; the work of Smith, Floerke, and Thomas in 2016 illustrates this. Students who receive an intervening test after the initial learning experience generally perform better on a later final test than subjects given only the final test. This phenomenon has come to be referred to as the testing effect. It has been demonstrated with diverse study stimuli, including word lists (Darley & Murdock, 1971), paired associates (Runquist, 1986), pictures (Wheeler & Roediger, 1992), general knowledge facts (McDaniel & Fisher, 1991), and prose passages (LaPorte & Voss, 1975; for a review, see Roediger & Karpicke, 2006a).

However, how often do we reflect on the format low-stakes quiz/test questions should take? Multiple choice and short answer formats are probably two of the most common. When completing short answer questions, students must think of and produce the correct answer. In contrast, multiple-choice questions provide several possible solutions and require the learner to choose the correct one. But which is best? 

Research by Kang, McDermot and Roediger (2007)1 suggests that short-answer questions improve learning more than multiple-choice questions as they require students to produce the answer. So, does this mean we need to stop using multiple-choice quizzes in favour of short answer quizzes? Certainly not. In geography, students are often faced with multiple-choice quizzes in the exam, so they need to be well versed in completing them. Additionally, a study by Smith and Karpicke (2014)2 has indicated that students who practised retrieval (either multiple choice or short answer quizzes) performed better than those in a control group. However, the differences between the performance of the students using the two forms of retrieval (short answer and multiple-choice) were small.

Considering this, it is clear that both approaches to quizzing for retrieval practice have a place in geography. However, it is worth considering when each is most appropriate. For example, in the short term, after teaching a concept or topic, multiple-choice questioning (containing effective distractors – take a look at these tips) might be well suited to support embedding learning. Following this, the scaffolding that multiple-choice questions can provide to students can be removed, transitioning to short answer questions to check for knowledge and understanding. This way, students have to work harder to by having to retrieve their answers from memory.

Tectonics Short Answer Questions

Tectonics Short Answer Questions available to Internet Geography Plus subscribers

To support Internet Geography Plus subscribers in developing the use of short-answer questions. We’re creating a bank of questions and answers that can be shared with students in Word documents along with a bank of self-marking Google Forms/Microsoft Forms that subscribers can copy over to their accounts. To get the ball rolling we’ve added a bank of short answer questions (and answers) covering hazards, tectonics and plate margins in Word, Google Form and Microsoft Form format that Internet Geography Plus subscribers can access now. Log in or take out a low-cost subscription to Internet Geography.

We’ve also developed an example of a hybrid quiz containing multiple choice and short answer quiz questions available in the 4Rs of Revision area in Internet Geography Plus.

If you’ve experience combining the use of multiple-choice and short answer questions as part of your retrieval strategy, please share in the comments below.


  1. Kang, McDermot, and Roeriger (2007), Test format and corrective feedback modify the effect of testing on long-term retention –
  2. Smith and Karpicke (2014), Retrieval practice with short-answer, multiple-choice, and hybrid formats

New GCSE geography retrieval revision

We are developing a new, open access revision area on Internet Geography, to support students with  retrieval practice. The resources will consist of a bank of online gap-fill activities that students can use to revisit prior learning.

The activities will be freely available with no requirement to register, pay to access or log in.

Each gap-fill will come in two forms, an open gap fill where students need to recall keywords and factual information along with a drag and drop version. The two versions are illustrated below.


We’re seeking support from the geography teacher community to develop these revision activities by contributing a paragraph or two of text to summarise key elements of each GCSE geography unit across all exam boards.

When contributing just head over to the submission form and add your paragraph. When contributing your paragraph missing words should be enclosed within an asterisk. e.g. *Constructive* waves build beaches. These waves are more common in *summer* than in winter. Constructive waves predominate in calmer weather conditions when less energy is being transferred to the water. Each wave is low. As the wave *breaks* it carries material up the beach in its *swash*. The beach material will then be deposited as the backwash soaks into the sand or slowly drains away. When the next wave breaks its swash will deposit more material without it being ‘captured’ by the backwash of the preceding wave.

Alternative answers should be separated using a forward slash e.g. *conservative/passive* plate margins….

You can also add a tooltip (pop up hint) to support students with the answer by including a colon e.g. *conservative/passive:Where to plates slide past each other* plate boundaries.

To begin with will focus on one unit at a time for each exam specification. To avoid repetition please identify the paragraph you will complete on this Google Sheet. When you’ve submitted it using this form please indicate it has been completed on the Google Sheet.

If you’ve any questions, please contact by adding a comment below.

Many thanks,


Grid Reference Retrieval

Grid reference retrieval is a simple way of encouraging students to recall information and make links between different elements within a unit of study. It provides the opportunity for students to re-visit grid references then make connections between what they have been learning.

Grid Reference Retrieval

A pre-requisite of completing an activity like this requires the students to have already studied the unit, so it is ideal for revisiting learning and making links.

Grid reference retrieval can also be further developed to include multiple units, encouraging students to make synoptic links.

Another way this activity can be developed is to colour code the squares and allocated points to the colours. More challenging elements should carry a higher tariff to encourage students to tackle these elements of the unit.

There are a range of different ways this resource can be used in the classroom, including:

  • students working independently
  • providing students with grid references (could be differentiated by ability)
  • students playing battleships

Download the Natural Hazards Tectonics Grid Reference Retrieval Template

Download the Climate Hazards Grid Reference Retieval Template

If you create your own version of this please send us a copy ([email protected]) and we’ll share it here.

Living World Revision Grids

Recently Kirstie Bowden (AKA @kirstiebowden) posted a revision grid covering AQA Geography The Living World, inspired by history teacher Amanda Raddon (@AJRRaddon).

The resources are ideal for retrieval practice and could be further developed to incorporate dual coding.

Other examples have also been shared on Twitter.

Kirstie has kindly agreed to share these resources on Internet Geography. Kirstie has also provided the instructions for using the resource. You can download these below:

Please be sure to thank Kirsty on Twitter or in the comments below!

Create a self-marking quiz using Google Forms

Creating a self-marking quiz using Google Forms is easy. Not only can students complete the quiz using any device but the quiz is self-marking, saving you time. This tutorial takes you through the steps needed to create a quiz like this basic example for coastal erosion.

To get started, head over to your Google Drive and click the New button in the top left corner. Next, click More then click Google Forms.

Open Google Forms

Open Google Forms

When your form is open, click the settings icon (cog) then select the Quizzes tab. This allows you to allocate points to the quiz and allow grading should you want it. Next, click Save.

Turn on quiz

Turn on quiz

Give your quiz a title, by clicking Untitled form and adding a title.

You now need to add fields to your quiz, which can include first name, surname and email address. To begin with type first name into the first question field. Then, select short answer from the answer dropdown. Make sure you click the required slider otherwise students could submit a quiz without adding their name. You can duplicate the question to add surname and email address.

Adding name fields

Adding name fields

When you’ve added the email address field you will have the option to collect email addresses. Click the link to enable this.

Your form will look something like the example below.

Collecting details for your quiz

Collecting details for your quiz

Next, you need to add your questions. You can add multiple choice questions, multiple answer questions and short answers.

Below is an example of a multiple-choice question. Remember to select Required so that students ahve to answer the question.

Example multiple-choice question

Example multiple-choice question

Once your written your multiple-choice question, click ANSWER KEY. Next, identify the correct answer and allocate the number of points available for correctly answering it. You can choose to add answer feedback too if you wish to.

Identify the correct answer and allocate points

Identify the correct answer and allocate points

Add the remaining questions you want to ask.

When you are ready to test your quiz click the preview icon at the top of the screen. This will take you to the live quiz (you can copy the web address and share it with students – if you are not sharing this electronically you might want to shorten the web address (URL) by visiting TinyUrl.

Once you have shared the quiz you can check results by clicking the Responses tab. You can review the performance of your students by exploring the options. If you want the results in a spreadsheet format, just click the Sheets icon below Total points. This will create a spreadsheet containing all the responses.



Did you know? If you subscribe to Internet Geography Plus you’ve got access to a number of multiple-choice question booklets. You can copy and paste questions and answers from these booklets to create digital versions of the multiple-choice resources. Please note, if you use our questions please don’t share the quizzes with people or students outside of your classes if you have an individual subscription or your school if you have a department subscription.

Have you seen our quizzes on Internet Geography? Save time creating your own by using ours!

Next Steps
Once you’ve set up your quiz installing a simple add-on lets you analyse the data you have collected. Take a look at this post to find out how: Analysing data from a self-marking quiz using Google Forms with Flubaroo.

Geography Retrieval Wheel

Based on some examples we’ve seen on Twitter recently we’ve created an interactive retrieval wheel that can be used to quiz students. The retrieval wheel is a simple powerpoint presentation that can be fully customised to meet your quizzing needs. Adding new questions is easy. We’ve set this example up using smart art which means it is easy to paste new questions from an existing bank you might have. In our example, we’ve pasted 6 questions from an Internet Geography Geogrevise Retrieval Practice Booklet (free to Internet Geography Plus subscribers).

Adding your own questions is simple. Just click the smart art wheel and either type your questions or paste existing answers into the text fields.

Editing the retrieval wheel

Editing the retrieval wheel

You can adjust the speed of the spinning wheel. To do this click the Animations tab. Then click Animation Pane. Select Diagram 3 then under Timing select the speed you want the wheel to turn.

Adjusting the speed of the spinning wheel

Adjusting the speed of the spinning wheel

Click the image below to download the free geography retrieval wheel.

Retrieval Wheel