Golden Retrieval – Ten Benefits of Testing

6 May 2018

Author: Mark Miller

On Day 2 of our Maximising Memory and the Science of Learning course, we looked at the benefits of retrieval practice.In Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice (2011), Roediger, Putnam and Smith outline how testing brings these benefits, some which we would already expect and some which may come as a surprise. This is a great summary of the evidence in this field.

Here we outline the basic idea behind each of their identified benefits.

Benefit 1: The Testing Effect: Retrieval Aids Later Retention This is described in the report as follows: “The act of retrieving when taking a test makes the tested material more memorable, either relative to no activity or compared to restudying the material. The size of the testing effect, as it has been named, also increases with the number of tests given.”

Benefit 2: Testing Identifies Gaps in Knowledge This benefit is an indirect benefit – when students have an opportunity to study after a test, they will prioritise those answers that were incorrect first time around. While students may struggle to grasp the benefits of the testing effect, they can certainly identify what they did not know and address this.

Benefit 3: Testing Causes Students to Learn More from the Next Study Episode This is called the test potentiation effect. It can be argued that much of this benefit is from the testing effect itself, but there is evidence that supports the idea that a study session following a test will be more productive as a result of the previous test.

Benefit 4: Testing Produces Better Organisation of Knowledge This may well be one of the underlying factors behind the testing effect – that testing can help to connect and organise knowledge. As students are made to recall information, they are primed to notice patterns and details, connecting them into an organisational structure.

Benefit 5: Testing Improves Transfer of Knowledge to New Contexts The benefits of taking a test are not simply limited to the material studied; retrieval also improves the transfer of knowledge to new situations. Testing improves near transfer (when contexts are similar) and far transfer (different contexts).

Benefit 6: Testing can Facilitate Retrieval of Material That was not Tested There is only a finite amount of information that can be tested, so choosing what to test means some items are not tested. Retrieval-induced facilitation is the idea that testing helps us to retain information that has not been tested but is related. However, there are certain conditions that should be met, without which it can actually have a contradictory effect.

Benefit 7: Testing Improves Metacognitive Monitoring This is similar to Benefit 2, but is related to students understanding future performance. Simply rereading material can give a false perception for what is known. Studies show that students in repeated study sessions versus tests often overestimate their understanding of the material.

Benefit 8: Testing Prevents Interference from Prior Material when Learning New Material If a large amount of material needs to be learnt, study sessions can be separated by a test to stop what is called proactive interference. The evidence here is based primarily on word lists, and further experiments are needed to see more applications in a range of contexts.

Benefit 9: Testing Provides Feedback to Instructors This benefit is most familiar to teachers – we can act on the information that testing gives us. This is commonly known as AfL but better described as ‘responsive teaching’.

Benefit 10: Frequent Testing Encourages Students to Study If there is an increase in low stakes quizzing, then there will be an increase in study. And perhaps an increase in self-quizzing too. The report also considers the negative effects of testing: Quizzing takes time away from other activities which might bring benefits; retrieval practice might produce shallow knowledge through ‘rote learning’; the fact that some testing may lead to other material being forgotten; the design of tests themselves can lead to erroneous material being learnt. The latter two are of most concern, but the benefits of testing far outweigh these possible negative elements. For a fuller understanding, read the full report. But don’t worry, there won’t be a test!

Posted on 6 May 2018
Posted in: Blog

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