Taking tests helps learning (Ariely pre-reading)

Another piece of pre-course reading recommended for is this 2011 NYT article on test taking. It showed that people who took tests on material learned it better than people who studied and better than people who drew concept maps of the material (another popular teaching tool). Interestingly, those who took the tests felt they would have the poorest recall.

…“when we use our memories by retrieving things, we change our access” to that information, Dr. Bjork said. “What we recall becomes more recallable in the future. In a sense you are practicing what you are going to need to do later.”

It may also be that the struggle involved in recalling something helps reinforce it in our brains.

Maybe that is also why students who took retrieval practice tests were less confident about how they would perform a week later.

“The struggle helps you learn, but it makes you feel like you’re not learning,” said Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College. “You feel like: ‘I don’t know it that well. This is hard and I’m having trouble coming up with this information.’ ”

By contrast, he said, when rereading texts and possibly even drawing diagrams, “you say: ‘Oh, this is easier. I read this already.’ ”

This is intriguing – I’ve always preferred writing a paper to taking a test, but never thought about how the act of taking the test itself could help improve recall. 

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