Test yourself

Meant to post this a while ago, as it’s really useful for many of my readers (i.e., college students), but forgot to.  Now that I’m busy with exams to graded, I was reminded to get to it.  Anyway, the Times had a really nice article on the most effective strategies for preparing for tests.   Short version– the best way to learn material is actually to be tested on it!

The research, published online Thursday in the journal Science, found that students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods.

One of those methods — repeatedly studying the material — is familiar to legions of students who cram before exams. The other — having students draw detailed diagrams documenting what they are learning — is prized by many teachers because it forces students to make connections among facts.

These other methods not only are popular, the researchers reported; they also seem to give students the illusion that they know material better than they do.

In the experiments, the students were asked to predict how much they would remember a week after using one of the methods to learn the material. Those who took the test after reading the passage predicted they would remember less than the other students predicted — but the results were just the opposite…

But “when we use our memories by retrieving things, we change our access” to that information, Dr. Bjork said. “What we recall becomes more recallable in the future. In a sense you are practicing what you are going to need to do later.”

It may also be that the struggle involved in recalling something helps reinforce it in our brains.

Maybe that is also why students who took retrieval practice tests were less confident about how they would perform a week later.

“The struggle helps you learn, but it makes you feel like you’re not learning,” said Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College. “You feel like: ‘I don’t know it that well. This is hard and I’m having trouble coming up with this information.’ ”

I don’t know if it truly counts as “testing” but back in my days of taking, rather than grading (as much as I hate grading, I’ll still take this side), I would try and test myself on the material as I went along.  Obviously, I was onto a pretty good strategy.  From reading this, though, it sounds like the more one truly does approach preparation in a test-like manner, the more learning will happen.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/science/21memory.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hp

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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