!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Tests are Your Friend

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Tests are Your Friend

When I was in graduate school, my main study technique for exams was to create lists of questions and answers that I then used to test myself. I was quite satisfied with the results this approach produced.

Now I've learned that there is a name for the process: the testing effect — "enhanced memory resulting from the act of retrieving information, as compared to simply reading or hearing the information."

Last week, Jeffrey Karpicke and Henry Roediger, psychology professors at Purdue University and Washington University, respectively, published a paper in Science, reporting the results of recent research they conducted on the testing effect.1 You can read details in a press release posted by Purdue.

The opening sentence of the press release — "Students learn more from taking test than they do by studying" — is misleading. The point is that how you study makes a big difference in how much you retain. You need to make information retrieval — in this context, self-testing — the main way in which you do your studying (once you've read through whatever it is you need to learn). Indeed, at the end of the press release, Karpicke is quoted as saying, "Testing is really most effective when students implement it on their own."

As Karpicke explains,
... during a test there are cognitive processes happening that actually promote learning. Testing is not just an assessment of what you studied. The act of retrieving information actually improves memory because you are practicing a skill. And that's the exact same skill you are going to need to retrieve that information again and again."
The Karpicke and Roediger research also clarifies that you should keep testing your recall even after you have succeeded once or twice in recalling particular concepts.

For instance, just because you are able to recall once or twice that the German word "Wissenschaft" means "science, knowledge," you should not drop "Wissenschaft" from the list of German words you test yourself on from time to time. To promote long-term recall, you should continue asking yourself periodically what "Wissenschaft" means.

1 "The Critical Importance of Retrieval for Learning," by Jeffrey D. Karpicke and Henry L. Roediger, III, Science, Feb 2008, Vol. 319, no. 5865, pp. 966-968.


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