The testing effect is a specific application of the idea of ‘retrieval practice’. It is the finding that being tested on something is more beneficial for memory than simply re-studying it. Not only does it help to improve recall of already learned material but, weirdly, having a test where you know none of the answers seems to subsequently aid learning!
However, ‘test-enhanced learning’ can also go beyond just recall. It can help students to identify their areas of weakness much more effectively than re-studying can, making them more able to monitor their own learning processes (see ‘metacognition’ and ‘growth mindset’). This is probably what is happening in the example above of taking a test with no prior knowledge; the test helps to focus attention on exactly what we don’t know, helping us to fill in those gaps more efficiently. Also, testing provides helpful feedback to teachers in a way that re-studying never can.
Suggestions for practice:
Test, test, test! HOWEVER, there are many ways to perform ‘testing’ without subjecting students to a continuous diet of formal tests. Quizzes and games can be used to make testing and retrieval practice not only enjoyable, but a standard part of students’ approach to learning. Two blogs here and here look specifically at how to encourage students to develop a habit of, and love for, self-testing. Ideas might include:
- Students creating their own test questions (then swapping with each other and completing)
- Filling in half-completed tables or pictures from memory, rather than with information provided
Team this idea also with ‘retrieval practice’, ‘spaced practice’ and ‘interleaved practice’
Further reading (and watching):