How Testing Enhances Learning

Learning is a skill, and like other skills, takes time and practice to improve.   Testing is a very efficient tool to improve learning. It’s definitely superior to memorization or plain re-reading of the lesson material. There are studies demonstrating that repeated retrieval can enhance long-term learning.

 

“One of the most consistent findings in cognitive psychology is that testing leads to increased retention more than studying alone does.”

 

According to Cynthia J. Brame and Rachel Biel – affiliated with Vanderbilt University –   in an article published in Life Sciences Education journal, “one of the most consistent findings in cognitive psychology is that testing leads to increased retention more than studying alone does (Roediger and Butler, 2011Roediger and Pyc, 2012).   Testing requires harder work to retrieve a memory, and the greater our increase in retrieval and storage strength, the greater is the learning that happens.
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Research has shown that nearly 90 percent of what is learned is forgotten within a day of learning it. Frequent self-assessment is a powerful tool to increase retention and better recall. It promotes active, not passive, repetition of information.     Testing engages the mind in a different and more demanding way than straight memorization or being fed answers. Repeating facts right after you’ve learned them has no added memory benefit, unless there is effort attached.
When testing is used  as formative assessment tools, results give teachers  a sense of students’ progression toward specified learning objectives. And as diagnostic tools, tests can  determine students’ preexisting conceptions or skills relevant to an upcoming subject. To a mindful teacher, feedback about these kinds of information can lead to increased efficiency and effectiveness.
Learning is an acquired skill, and there will be ups and downs. Once students recognize that self-assessment is not just for academic work, but a valuable life skill, they will become better lifelong learners and confident problem solvers.