Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Does Testing Enhance Learning?

Taking a test assesses knowledge, but it also enhances later retention of the material, a phenomenon known as the testing effect.  Roediger & Karpicke (2006) studied this effect with educationally relevant materials and investigated whether testing facilitates learning only because tests offer an opportunity to restudy material. In two experiments, students studied prose passages and took one or three immediate free-recall tests, without feedback, or restudied the material the same number of times as the students who received tests. Students then took a final test 5 min, 2 days, or 1 week later. When the final test was given after 5 min, repeated studying improved recall relative to repeated testing. However, on the delayed tests, prior testing produced significantly greater retention than studying, even though repeated studying increased students’ confidence in their ability to remember the material.   

Both experiments showed that immediate testing after reading a prose passage resulted in better long-term retention than repeatedly studying the passage, even though the tests included no feedback. The results in the two experiments discussed here indicate that the testing effect is not simply a result of students gaining re-exposure to the content during testing, because restudying allowed students to re-experience 100% of the material, but did not produce good long-term retention. These experiments indicate the dramatic positive effects of testing.  

Repeated studying improved performance relative to repeated testing on final tests given after a 5-min retention interval, however the reverse occurred with delayed tests.  This pattern of results is similar to the finding in the spacing-effect literature, which indicates that massed presentation improves performance on immediate tests, but spaced presentation leads to better performance on delayed tests (Balota et al., 1989). That is, in both cases, massed study leads to a short-term benefit, but testing or spaced studying has a greater effect on long-term retention. 

Frequent testing:
Leads students to space their study efforts
Allows them and their instructors to assess their knowledge on an ongoing basis 

Serves as a powerful mnemonic aid for future retention.

Testing allows for an accurate assessment of knowledge. Individuals often over estimate their level of knowledge.  Testing is a powerful means of improving learning.


Balota, D.A., Duchek, J.M., & Paullin, R. (1989). Age-related differences in the impact of spacing, lag, and retention interval. Psychology and Aging, 4, 3–9. 

Roediger, H.L., & Karpicke, J.D. (2006). Test-Enhanced Learning: Taking Memory Tests Improves Long-Term Retention. Psychological Science, 17 (3), 249-255.

Articles on memory- Emotional Memory & Genes http://jamiehalesblog.blogspot.com/2013/01/emotional-memories-genes.html 

Temporal Lobes Critical To Human Memory