Benefits of Frequent Low-Stakes Testing
In “Test-Enhanced Learning: The Potential for Testing to Promote Greater Learning in Undergraduate Science Courses,” Cynthia J. Brame and Rachel Biel summarize a number of studies that appear to indicate that testing can also be a learning event, with benefits that include the following:
Repeated retrieval enhances long-term retention. In cognitive science, this phenomenon is known as the testing effect, the well-established psychological effect that the mere act of testing someone’s memory will strengthen the memory, regardless of whether feedback is provide.
Testing in a variety of formats can enhance learning. Studies analyzed by Brame and Biel suggest that “multiple question formats can provide the benefit associated with testing” (that is, greater recall).
Feedback enhances the benefits of testing. Brame and Beil cite three studies that suggest that “feedback on both low-confidence correct answers and incorrect answers may further enhance the testing effect, allowing students to solidify their understanding of concepts about which they are unclear.” They note, as well, that “these results are consistent with observations that student learning from in-class concept questions is enhanced by instructor explanations (Smith et al., 2011).”
Learning is not limited to rote memory. Studies indicate that test-enhanced learning enhances students’ ability to perform higher-order cognitive activities (for example, building a concept map) as well as simple recall tasks. Some studies also suggest that “repeated testing produces superior transfer of learning relative to repeated studying (Butler, 2010).”
Testing potentiates further study. Researcher Elizabeth Ligon Bjork reported that testing can potentiate further study after she conducted experiments that demonstrate that pre-testing improves recall. Other researchers report that students tested after reading each of three sections of text displayed greater recall than students who were tested only once, after reading all three sections.
The benefits of testing appear to extend to the classroom. Though Brame and Beil primarily examined experiments performed in a laboratory setting, they also review a number of studies that suggest that “the benefits of testing may also extend to the classroom.” For example, one researcher supplemented an introductory psychology course with an “exam-a-day,” finding that “students who completed an exam every day rather than exams that covered large blocks of material scored significantly higher on a retention test administered at the end of the semester.”