Testing effect (test-enhanced learning) in learning theory

Testing effect (test-enhanced learning) in learning theory


Let’s say you have a big exam coming up
and you need to review the material—what would be the best way for you to study? Well you might think that you should re-read
the textbook or look over your notes, but it turns out that one of the most effective
ways to study is by testing yourself on the material. In other words, the mere act of answering
questions will strengthen memory—a phenomenon that is called the Testing Effect, or sometimes
test-enhanced learning or retrieval practice. This phenomenon happens for a number of reasons. One is that active learning is better than
passive learning. When we read a textbook chapter or re-read
our notes, we are engaging with the material in a relatively passive way. We like to think that we are information sponges—that
we absorb the knowledge as it passes by our eyes—but it turns out that real learning
happens when we actively engage with the material—for example, when we think about how it relates
to other material we’ve learned or are learning. Actively thinking about the material increases
the likelihood that we will recall the information when we need it later on—like on an exam. In fact, the more actively you can engage
with the material—the better. Research has shown that you should take the
time to test yourself in ways that force you to struggle with the material, rather than
just focusing on plain recall. The benefits of testing are largest when the
questions are complex and you really need to work to come up with the answer. Another reason has to do with the dynamics
of recalling. In order to answer a question on a test you
have to search through your memory and retrieve the answer, right? Well, it turns out that—at least in one
respect—your memory is more like a muscle than like a filing cabinet. When you first rode a bike you probably fell
a lot, and your movements were rough and wobbly, but with practice, the movements become easier
and smoother. We can think about memory as working the same
way—where the more you practice testing yourself and recalling the information, the
easier it will be for you to do so again at a later time. As an example, one study compared medical
residents who tested themselves versus those who simply restudied information about two
diseases. Those who underwent practice testing achieved
on average 13% higher scores than their counterparts who re-read the information, and this was
6 months after they first learned the material, which shows greater long-term retention. And if you practiced retrieving information
during the intervening months, recall would be even greater. An important part of the testing effect has
to do with the timing during which the testing happens. In another study, participants read an article
and then were tested on the material either 1 day, 1 week, or 3 weeks later. Those who were tested on the material just
one day after they learned it had better recall of that information later as compared to those
who were tested on the material long after they had learned it. Okay so how can you use this when you want
to learn something? Well, if your teacher gives you a practice
test, then take it! If not, try to find some practice questions
online, or use sites like ours (Osmosis) that can automatically send you questions as you
approach your exam. You can also use other study strategies where
you actively engage with the material, like flash cards and taking notes where you put
the information in your own words. Also, change your mindset about testing more
generally: don’t think of exams as only being about assessing your learning. Instead, see them for what they are—an important
learning opportunity. So make sure you always review your exams
and quizzes, to see what you got wrong.

14 thoughts on “Testing effect (test-enhanced learning) in learning theory

  1. i am about to start a nursing class on psych…would love to see some videos on psych conditions/diseases….your videos made my prior exam score higher..pleasee help! :))

  2. There different types of memory and you are mixing them all up. Muscle memory, episodic memory and semantic memory don't work the same but you mix them all up.

  3. Hi, amazing video i gotta admit.
    I'm doing a psychology assignment on learning and repeated testing. This would be a great video to include
    Thanks. 🙂

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