Test-taking is a fact of life — a necessary tool for evaluating capacity for learning as well as effectiveness in teaching.
And while most people understand and acknowledge the role and necessity of test-taking, new research reveals that taking part in these exercises can actually improve learning.
Two researchers — Dr. Katherine Rawson, associate professor in Kent State’s department of psychology, and former Kent State graduate student Mary Pyc — recently reported the findings of a study that examined the inherent benefits of test-taking on memory.
They found that testing enhances memory by supporting the use of more effective encoding strategies.
“Taking practice tests — particularly ones that involve attempting to recall something from memory — can drastically increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to remember that information again later,” Rawson said.
“Given that hundreds of experiments have been conducted to establish the effects of testing on learning, it’s surprising that we know very little about why testing improves memory.”
Offering an example, the researchers point to the process of trying to learn foreign language vocabulary. In their research, Rawson and Pyc would typically use Swahili-English word pairs, such as ‘wingu — cloud.’
“To learn this item, you could just repeat it over and over to yourself each time you studied it, but it turns out that’s not a particularly effective strategy for committing something to memory,” they suggested.
“A more effective strategy is to develop a keyword that connects the foreign language word with the English word. ‘Wingu’ sounds like ‘wing,’ birds have wings and fly in the ‘clouds.'”
Of course, this method works only as well as the keyword a person comes up with, the study pointed out, because the association depends on a person’s ability to remember the identified keyword as well as the English word.
The study revealed that practice tests lead learners to develop better keywords. People come up with more effective mental hints or keywords, called mediators, when they are being tested than when they are studying only.
Earlier this year, Rawson traveled to the White House and received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on young professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.
Pyc received her master’s and doctoral degrees from Kent State; she is now a postdoctoral fellow at Washington University.
The findings of the article were published in the Oct. 15 2010 issue of the journal Science.
Source:Kent State University