Ten Benefits of Testing – Victoria Littler

Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice

To view the article in its entirety go to: http://psych.wustl.edu/memory/Roddy%20article%20PDF’s/BC_Roediger%20et%20al%20(2011)_PLM.pdf

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).

The Science of Learning – Victoria Littler

The Science of learning

The Science of learning was developed by Deans For Impact in collaboration with Dan Willingham and provides an evidence-based core of what educators should know about learning.  The study poses six key questions about the way students learn that, they believe, every teacher-candidate should grapple with and be able to answer.

Below is a summary of the questions and suggested solutions.

  1. How do students understand new ideas?

Students learn new ideas by reference to ideas they already know: use of analogies can help students because it allows them to do this. In addition, a well-sequenced curriculum is important to guarantee that students have the prior knowledge they need to master new ideas.

To learn pupils must transfer information from working memory to long-term memory because understanding can be impeded if students are confronted with too much information at once.  Teachers can use “worked examples”, for instance, a step-by-step demonstration of how to perform a task or solve a problem to reduce students’ cognitive burden. This guidance or “scaffolding” should be removed in subsequent tasks. Content can also be made explicit by modelling and examples.

Teachers may also use multiple modalities to convey an idea; for example, using an image while talking, taking care to ensure that the two types of information complement each other to enhance learning.

Cognitive development does not progress through a fixed sequence of age-related stages. Mastery of new concepts happens in fits and starts: content should not be kept from students because it is “developmentally inappropriately”, instead, teachers should ask “is the student ready?” or “has the student mastered the pre-requisites?”

  1. How do students learn and retain new information?

Students should think carefully about meaning when they encounter “to-be-remembered” material: teachers can assign students tasks that require explanation (for example, questioning students as to why something has happened) or requires them to organise material in a meaningful way.

Practice is essential to learning new facts, but not all practice is equivalent: teachers can space practice out over time, reviewing content over weeks and months and interleaving (alternating) tasks to help students remember information long term. Tests and quizzes are useful in doing this.

  1. How do students solve problems?

Each subject has some facts that, if committed to long-term memory, will enable them to problem-solve. Moreover, effective feedback is essential in moving towards mastery of a skill. This should be: specific and clear; focused on the task, not the student; explanatory and improvement focused.

  1. How does learning transfer to new situations in or outside the classroom?

The transfer of knowledge or skills to a novel problem requires both knowledge of the problem’s context and a deep understanding of the problem’s underlying structure: teachers must ensure that pupils have sufficient background knowledge to appreciate the context of a problem. Teachers may also have students compare problems with different surface structures which share the same underlying structure. For multi-step purposes teachers can encourage pupils to find and label the substeps required to solve a problem, helping students identify the underlying structure of the problem. Concrete and abstract representations can be used to help students recognise the underlying structure of problems.

  1. What motivates students to learn?

Beliefs about intelligence are important predictors of student behaviour in school: students are more motivated if they believe that intelligence and ability can be improved through hard work. As such, effort, rather than ability, should be praised. Also, teachers can prompt students to feel more in control of their learning by encouraging them to set learning goals.

Internal motivation is more important than external motivation. Teacher’s should try to consider: is the activity one that a student is motivated to perform in? Whether rewards offered for a task are verbal or tangible; whether a reward is expected or not; whether praise is being offered for effort, completion or the quality of performance and whether a reward is going to occur immediately or after a delay.

The ability to monitor their own thinking helps students to identify what they do and do not know, but people often struggle to accurately judge their own learning and understanding. Teachers can engage pupils in tasks which allow them to self-regulate (self-testing, explanations). These tasks can help a student arrive at more realistic conclusion with regards to their own knowledge.

Students will be more motivated in an environment where they believe they belong and are accepted: teachers must reassure students that doubts about themselves will diminish over time. Teachers can encourage students to see critical feedback as a sign of others’ beliefs that they are able to meet high standards.

  1. What are common misconceptions about how students think and learn?

Students do not have different learning styles; humans only use 10% of their brains; people are not preferentially ‘right-brained’ and ‘left-brained’; novices and experts cannot think in the same ways. Teachers should be able to recognise common misconceptions of cognition science that relate to teaching and learning.