Friday, January 21, 2011

Tests don't just evaluate learning - they cause it!

As a student, I had a fairly common wish. "Why can't we just LEARN the material, rather than having to waste so many class periods on stressful and pointless testing?" After all, if we eliminated testing, would that give every teacher back hours and hours of teaching time? It makes sense, and it is a welcome fantasy for an exam-weary student.

But new research indicates that test-taking actually makes us learn and allows us to retain knowledge more easily in the future. It even surpasses "mind mapping" and other learning techniques beloved of teachers for their ability to connect different ideas together.

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...

The students who took the recall tests may “recognize some gaps in their knowledge,” said Marcia Linn, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, “and they might revisit the ideas in the back of their mind or the front of their mind.”

When they are later asked what they have learned, she went on, they can more easily “retrieve it and organize the knowledge that they have in a way that makes sense to them.”
This definitely reflects my experience coaching a Bible Quiz Team. Those students who study the most often do more poorly than those who study a little, but are sure to attend each and every practice. Actually quizzing engages the material and forces you to recognize what you do and do not know.


shadowmom1 said...

I think this is true for me. If I just read and try to retain, I retain very little. If I know I will be required to write the info for someone else, I process the info better and it lasts longer. When I was in college, I'd review my notes and see where I was weak. If there were no tests, I would not have done that.

BH said...

Who knew that traditional schooling actually had some merit :-)

Nomad said...

BH, That was my thought exactly. I have been talking with a teacher recently who was using a modern methodology for teaching where there were few or no tests at all. Everything was based on classwork and homework. The idea being that a lower-pressure environment would better develop social and learning skills. I wonder how this research challenges that new methodology.