Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice
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The Ten Benefits of Testing claims that greater learning would occur in educational settings if teachers and students utilised a range of testing strategies and were quizzed more frequently. The contributors posit ten main benefits which are detailed below:
Benefit 1 The testing effect: retrieval aids later retention
Many experiments have been able to establish conditions in which memory is boosted by testing relative to restudy control groups, concluding that testing is a far more effective method of retention.
Benefit 2 Testing identifies gaps in knowledge
Testing enables students to access what they do not know so that they can concentrate study efforts on the areas where knowledge is deficient. While studies like the one conducted by Amlud, Kalhoury and Kardash conclude that testing enacted the restudy of items that were missed, Kornell and Bjork found that students are typically unaware that learning can occur during testing: only 18% of respondents recognised that testing facilitated learning. Consequently, teachers must incorporate testing into lesson time and homework activities.
Benefit 3 Testing causes students to learn more from the next learning episode
Izawa coined the term ‘test-potentiated learning’; this means that testing causes students to learn more from the next study episode because the test enacts a ‘slowing of forgetting’. Subjects who were tested before a study session were more effective at retaining information than those who did not take a test. Karpicke found that when periods of testing and studying were equally interspersed, (as opposed to a limited number of tests or no tests at all) subjects were able to remember information better after the initial tests.
Benefit 4 Testing produces better organization of knowledge
Testing allows students to organise information more than reading alone. Mason and McDaniel conducted recall tests, finding a pattern of clustering information during free recall tests. Similarly, Zaromb and Roediger discovered that, in a free recall test with categories provided, those who has been tested were able to retrieve more information than those who had not.
Benefit 5 Testing improves transfer of knowledge to new contexts
While some critics complain that testing produces “inert knowledge”, proponents argue that retrieval practice induces readily accessible information (that which is stored in long term memory) to solve new problems. Jacoby, Walheim and Coane found that testing improved the classification of novel exemplars in their bird experiment. Students who were repeatedly tested were better able to classify new birds and their families than those who repeatedly studied them, showing that testing helped subjects to better apply their knowledge to new exemplars. Moreover, practicing retrieval has been shown time and time again to produce enhanced memory which aids the retention of future material.
Benefit 6 Testing can facilitate retrieval of information that was not tested
Studies by Chan et al and others have concluded that when a test and study is undergone, rather than studying alone, participants remember more information in subsequent tests that was studied but not tested.
Benefit 7 Testing improves metacognitive monitoring
Testing helps students to focus on accurate prediction of future performances and permits them to have better calibration of their knowledge. If students only study material repeatedly, they may think that their familiarity with the material means that they know it and can retrieve it when needed. But such familiarity can be misleading as students make inaccurate predictions. Therefore, instead of simply restudying, teachers should administer quizzes for students to self-test to determine what material they do and do not know well; testing can help to compensate for the tendency in students to be overly confident, which results in more accurate assessment of learning.
Benefit 8 Testing prevents interference from prior material when learning new material
Another indirect benefit of testing is that tests create a release from proactive interference. Proactive interference occurs when sets of materials are learned in succession; the previous material learned influences the retention of new materials in a negative manner. Thus, proactive interference refers to the poorer retention of material learned later, caused by prior learning (Underwood, 1957; see Crowder (1976) for a review). Elongated study sessions may therefore cause a build-up of proactive interference. However, research has shown that when tests are inserted between study episodes, they cause a release from proactive interference and enable new learning to be more successful.
Benefit 9 Testing provides feedback to instructors
Testing can provide teachers with valuable feedback about what students do and do not know, and teachers in turn can encourage students to change their study behaviour. Although these points may seem obvious, they are often overlooked benefits of using frequent testing in the classroom. Teachers often drastically overestimate what they believe their students to know (Kelly, 1999) and testing provides one way to improve a teacher’s estimation of their students’ knowledge.
Benefit 10 Frequent testing encourages students to study
Probably the most influential indirect benefit of testing is the one described in general terms at the beginning of the chapter: Having frequent quizzes, tests, or assignments motivates students to study. Mawhinney, Bostow, Laws, Blumenfeld, and Hopkins (1971) documented this point in controlled circumstances, with tests given daily, weekly, or every three weeks. Studying was most copious and evenly spaced with daily testing. With less frequent testing, study behavior occurred only before the tests (see also Michael, 1991).