Deliberate Practice: Sub-skills in D&T

Return to the Distributed Practice & Deliberate Practice Strategies in D&T page to see all resources

These strategies are considered in some depth on many of our courses. This page gives some background to the strategy.

What is deliberate practice?

Deliberate practice is based on research by Anders Ericsson and others on the most effective strategies for learning. Rather than just working harder and longer to succeed he advocates a more targeted and purposeful approach, along with expert coaching and feedback that helps the learning maintain direction. This model of learning also links to the distributed practice model. 

See one of the original research papers on The Role of Deliberate Practice by Ericsson, Krampe & Tesco-Romer

Blog by Teacherhead o10 teaching techniques to practice deliberately


Key features of this model include:

  • Starting with a purposeful goal in mind & breaking down goals into manageable chunks
  • Tracking progress and regularly reviewing it in order to identify what worked
  • Time & pace: Finding the right speed to work at that maximises learning (which often means slowing things down) as well as focusing on quality use of time (rather than just more time but with limited impact). 
  • Working with an expert coach who gives immediate feedback
  • Being challenged
  • Varying the approach to keep things interesting 
  • Repetition of learning within different contexts


What are sub skills?

Sub-skills are what you get when you break down a bigger task into all of its component parts. Whilst high stakes testing practice is important, of just as much importance is the development of the sub-skills that contribute to the bigger picture. ‘Deliberately’ practising individual sub-skills in isolation means the teacher can focus on each skill until the student has perfected it. It’s also easier to control the learning and assessment of these sub-skills and it can feel less overwhelming for students with more low stakes testing taking place. Once students are more skilled at the sub-skills of sitting an exam they are less likely to feel overwhelmed when approaching the main task. 

For more detailed information read Making Good Progress by Daisy Christodoulou 


Examples of sub-skills for developing exam technique

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  • Developing the use of technical language e.g. through glossaries and key word collections along with activities that get students to use key words, such as using notes and diagrams to explain techniques. 
  • Getting used to seeing exam questions and having strategies to stay calm with a growth mindset
  • Writing legibly in a short time frame using good grammar and spelling
  • Being able to identify what the question is asking and being able to review if it has been answered
  • Using the number of marks to guide how detailed an answer should be as well as how long to spend on each question
  • Avoiding just repeating the question in the answer as this can fill up space and make students think they have finished answering the question when they haven't
  • Developing self marking skills through making their own and others work
  • Reading the whole paper before starting to answer questions to get an overview
  • Reading question and picking out key words, command words and qualifiers 
  • Skills in planning an answer e.g. as a mind map
  • Using strategies such as PEE (point, explanation, example) to structure detailed answers
  • Identifying images, as well as sketching images, relating to keywords and concepts
  • Avoiding ‘stock answers’ which give vague information without detail and justification e.g. quicker, neater, quality, cheap, better, value for money
  • Being able to ask questions as well as answer them 


Return to the Distributed Practice & Deliberate Practice Strategies in D&T page to see all resources


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