It’s Monday morning and you are sitting at your desk at school prepared for yet another math quiz. You are groggy from last night’s cramming, but you are alert and ready to ace this quiz. Sounds familiar?
The mere thought of a test makes many of us uneasy and nervous. Cramming for tests has become a typical habit for many students these days. Testing is seen by both students and teachers as a way of evaluation. But in the end, is it only the mark that counts?
Well, according to Purdue University researchers Henry Roederger and Jeffrey Karpicke, testing may not be just a way to evaluate students, but actually help them learn. They found that testing increases understanding and memory retention.
These researchers conducted various experiments to see whether testing helps students to learn academic information better than just studying. They found that testing was much more effective in students’ retention of material when they had to remember this material over some time.
These findings suggest that testing is a powerful way of improving learning and memory over time, not just evaluating it. That is, taking a test as part of studying before the actual test improves your ability to remember the material later on. This phenomenon is called the “testing effect.”
Did You Know?
Studies show that while most students and teachers believe that changing answers on tests usually hurts the test score, in reality answer changing on tests generally increases the test score!
So what about studying without testing? It seems that repeated studying by simply rehearsing the information makes students feel a false sense of confidence in their ability to remember things, since this type of studying is not actually the best strategy for retaining information over time.
Although repeated studying produces short-term benefits in remembering information, students often use ineffective learning strategies since they focus on short-term gains rather than trying to understand and remember the information over time.
Did You Know?
Research indicates that class attendance matters! Poor class attendance has been linked with poor grades (and vice versa).
Other researchers have also found testing to be more effective in students’ retention of material. For example, in an experiment by McDaniel and colleagues at the University of New Mexico, students in one class were divided into three groups in preparation for the test on different textbook chapters for the course.
In the first group, the students took short-answer quizzes in preparing for the test. The second group of students took multiple-choice quizzes to prepare for the test. The students in the third group read over the critical facts in the chapters in preparation for the test, without testing themselves on this material.
The test results: students who practiced by testing their knowledge before writing the actual test performed better on the test than students who simply rehearsed and re-read the material.
Did You Know?
Mnemonic devices, or methods used to increase one’s memory for information, such as rhyming, were used in ancient Greece and Rome, where pen and paper were not readily available. As such, people depended heavily on these mnemonic devices.
Why is testing more effective for information retention than repeated studying? While it is not exactly clear yet what all the reasons behind this testing effect may be, there are various theories about this phenomenon. Some, believe it or not, suggest that the feeling of uneasiness and nervousness that we may feel when we have to write a test is actually a way to learn more efficiently!
While further research is needed to fully understand the reasons behind the testing effects, it has definitely become clear that testing improves our retention of material over time.
Dread tests no more! :)
Roediger, H.I., & Karpicke, J.D. (2006). Test-enhanced learning. Psychological Science,
Marina is currently working on her Ph.D in clinical-developmental psychology at York University. Her research includes adolescent romantic relationships and she has always been fascinated by the topic of love and attraction. In her spare time she loves to read, listen to tin-pan-alley, and hang out with her family and friends.