Giving meaningful feedback to learners will help them take ownership of their practical skills development

This resource accompanies the article How to help students develop their practical skills, part of the Teaching science skills series.

Learning objectives

  1. Obtain clear, meaningful feedback on competency in specific practical skills.
  2. Track progression through practical activities.
  3. Understand how to improve competency in a specific practical skill.

This resource is based on the Common Practical Assessment Criteria (CPAC) used to assess practical skills across A-level specifications in England. The criteria may be a useful guide for other contexts, therefore a version without reference to the CPACs is included. Alternatively, you could amend the editable files to include practical skills specific to your curriculum or context.


In order to improve learners’ practical skills it is essential they

  • appreciate what they are assessed on and how
  • recognise what competency looks like
  • understand how to improve
  • are given multiple opportunities to practise these skills.

Using a model, feedback, reapply loop is a highly effective way to achieve this, you can find more information about this approach in the article linked above.

This resource will help you to ensure that feedback given to learners is meaningful. They can link that feedback to specific targets to help them improve practical skills when approaching similar investigations, as well as translate skills and targets into other types of practical work.


Learners may need to receive additional guidance on some of the specific skills:

Support could be provided as step-wise instructions. Particularly effective is to show learners examples of work at different levels; for example, giving a results table which achieves ‘P’ rather than ‘A’ and exploring the reasons why.

The word skills with a molecule over the i and a measure on an l. Inside a circle.

This resource is part of our Teaching science skills series, bringing together strategies and classroom activities to help your learners develop essential scientific skills, from ethics to risk assessment and more.

How to use this resource

Many of the practical activities learners carry out as part of their A-level or equivalent course do not occur in isolation; they are integrated within each topic. For example, titrations are carried out throughout amount of substance topics, but are revisited in the contexts of redox and transition metals. This allows opportunities for learners to practise the skills within that group and to see progression of their competency within each skill.

Suggested sequence

1. Give learners the target tracker for a group of practicals (slide 3 or 5) – for example, one tracker for titrations, one for calorimetry work etc.

2. Model the practical to learners and ask them to consider how they would assess your competency. This is an opportunity to show learners what the levels mean in practise – for example, failure to fill a burette at an appropriate height would results in ‘N’ for CPAC 3b. This allows you to discuss with learners how CPACs are applied.

3. Learners carry out the activity. Assess the relevant competencies and feedback using the target diagram. This works best if you circulate and mark their grid throughout the practical as you see them completing the task, as this allows ‘live’ feedback for learners. CPACs 4 and 5 focus primarily on recording and evaluating results, and so can be assessed after the completion of the task. Note: not all CPACs will be assessed at each practical select those that are most relevant.

4. After receiving their feedback, learners reflect on their learning and set themselves specific targets (slide 4 or 6). For example, they may only have had time to collect one set of results, so might set themselves the target, ‘Achieve concordant results (within 0.10 cm3 of each other) and calculate a mean titre.’ This is a good opportunity to display examples of work for learners to discuss and assess – for example, showing them the difference between an ‘A’ results table and a ‘P’.

5. Before learners complete the next practical activity in a group, they review the target grid and reflection form to remind themselves of the targets they have set.

6. Feedback from the next practical is added to the target tracker.

7. Learners reflect on their progression across the practical activities in a group. This is an opportunity for them to make any key notes of the important aspects of the practical activity to help them scaffold answers for exam-style questions, eg how is a titration used to find an unknown concentration?

8. Peer and self-assessment (student sheet) - once learners have built an understanding of the CPACs and how they are applied to practical work, they can self- and peer assess work against using the assessment levels. For example, they could assess their peer’s risk assessment, referencing and results tables.