Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Repeated test-taking better for retention than repeated studying, research shows


Despite their reputation as a cruel tool of teachers intent on striking fear into the hearts of unprepared students, quizzes — given early and often — may be a student’s best friend when it comes to understanding and retaining information for the long haul, suggests new psychology research from Washington University in St. Louis.

"Students who self-test frequently while studying on their own may be able to learn more, in much less time, than they might by simply studying the material over and over again," says Henry L. Roediger III, Ph.D. "Our study indicates that testing can be used as a powerful means for improving learning, not just assessing it," says Henry L. "Roddy" Roediger III, Ph.D., an internationally recognized scholar of human memory function and the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor at Washington University.

"Students who self-test frequently while studying on their own may be able to learn more, in much less time, than they might by simply studying the material over and over again," he adds. "Incorporating more frequent classroom testing into a course may improve students’ learning and promote retention of material long after a course has ended."

Perhaps equally important, this study demonstrates that students who rely on repeated study alone often come away with a false sense of confidence about their mastery of the material.

In an experiment in which students either took quizzes or were permitted to study material repeatedly, students in the study-only group professed an exaggerated confidence, sure that they knew the material well, even though important details already had begun slip-sliding away. The group that took tests on the material, rather than repeatedly reading it, actually did better on a delayed test of their knowledge.

Published in the March 2006 issue of the journal Psychological Science, Roediger’s study is co-authored with graduate student Jeffrey D. Karpicke, a research colleague in the Department of Psychology in Arts & Sciences.

In two experiments, one group of students studied a prose passage for about five minutes and then took either one or three immediate free-recall tests, receiving no feedback on the accuracy of answers. Another group received no tests in this phase, but was allowed another five minutes to restudy the passage each time their counterparts were involved in a testing session.

After phase one, each student was asked to take a final retention test presented at one of three intervals — five minutes, two days or one week later. When the final test was presented five minutes after the last study or testing session, the study-study-study-study (SSSS) group initially scored better, recalling 81 percent of the passage as opposed to 75 percent for the repeated-test group.

However, tested just two days later, the study-only group had forgotten much of what they had learned, already scoring slightly lower than the repeated-test group. Tested one week later, the study-test-test-test group scored dramatically better, remembering 61 percent of the passage as compared with only 40 percent by the study-only group.

The study-only group had read the passage about 14 times, but still recalled less than the repeated testing group, which had read the passage only 3.4 times in its one-and-only study session.

"Taking a memory test not only assesses what one knows, but also enhances later retention, a phenomenon known as the ’testing effect,’" says Roediger.

"Our findings demonstrate that the testing effect is not simply a result of students gaining re-exposure to the material during testing because students in our repeated-study group had multiple opportunities to re-experience 100 percent of the material but still produced poor long-term retention. Clearly, testing enhances long-term retention through some mechanism that is both different from and more effective than restudy alone."

Improving classroom instruction

Previous research, says Roediger, offers a number of theories on why this phenomenon takes place. One suggests we learn more efficiently when placed in difficult situations — think of that sinking feeling in your stomach when a pop quiz is announced.

Others suggest that repeated testing improves long-term recall by forcing students to practice the very skills they will need to recollect this information at a later date, a memory quirk that might be called the "use-it or lose-it" effect.

The fact that study-only students did relatively well when tested after only five minutes is consistent with other research showing that massed presentation or "cramming" improves performance primarily in the short-run, whereas studies spaced over intervals tend to result in better long-term retention.

This study, says Roediger, reveals just how strong the testing effect is: Even though repeated study across intervals offers known benefits to long-term retention, students in the repeated-testing group still produced much better results on a delayed test of recollection.

Roediger is involved in number of research projects designed to use new knowledge from the cognitive sciences to improve classroom instruction. This research was supported by a grant from the Institute of Educational Sciences and by a Collaborative Activity Grant from the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

Although the participants in this study were college undergraduates (ages 18-24), the study’s findings have important implications for all classrooms. Many students, notes Roediger, continue to rely heavily on repeated-study techniques, often with the encouragement of their teachers.

Even better long-term retention may be possible, he suggests, if students are alerted that they will be tested often, encouraged to review at least once before each test and then given timely feedback on the accuracy of their answers.

"We believe the time is ripe for a thorough examination of the mnemonic benefits of testing and its potentially important consequences for improving childhood educational practice," he concludes.

Gerry Everding | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Science Education:

nachricht Decision-making research in children: Rules of thumb are learned with time
19.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht Young people discover the "Learning Center"
20.09.2016 | Research Center Pharmaceutical Engineering GmbH

All articles from Science Education >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>