Assess and improve students’ ability to use standard form

Students encounter standard form in their maths lessons, and it’s critical for dealing with the orders of magnitude they will meet in their chemistry learning. In maths, students’ ability to use standard form is assessed, but they don’t apply it. To apply it to chemistry problems requires another level of cognitive channel.


Use these diagnostic questions to assess your students’ fluency with standard form notation. Depending on how students respond, the lesson will need to follow different courses, A, B or C:

  • A. If most/all students get the right answer, then seat any who struggled with a student who answered confidently and correctly and continue with the lesson using standard form throughout to reinforce notational fluency. Start the following lesson in a similar way.
  • B. If students are split 50/50, put them in mixed attainment pairs and ask the stronger students to explain their reasoning to the weaker student. Then ask each pair to design a new diagnostic question and rotate these around the room for students to have a second attempt. If there’s not sufficient improvement, move on to C.
  • C. If most/all students get the wrong answer, you’ll need to do some whole-class work on standard form to teach students how to decode the notation more explicitly. Here are some strategies to get you started.

Use this alongside the Education in Chemistry article Working with standard form.