Testing to Aid Retention

This (by Tania Lombrozo on NPR’s Cosmos & Culture blog) interests me because it aligns with what I’ve seen for myself and my students.

And that’s not all: there’s also evidence that test-taking itself can improve retention for the material being tested. In a 2006 demonstration of a phenomenon known as the “testing effect,” for example, Roedieger and Karpicke had students read passages of text and then either repeatedly study them or repeatedly test their ability to recall them, without any feedback on how well they did on the tests. The students who repeatedly studied the passage were more confident about their ability to remember the content than those who were repeatedly tested. But the latter group considerably outperformed the former when it came to actual memory for the passage one week later.

So testing can be an excellent tool in an educator’s toolbox, but it’s one that needs to be used wisely. The American Psychological Association warns of the dangers of “high-stakes” testing in our nation’s schools, and a report from the National Academies of Science suggests few benefits to our current test-based accountability system.

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