School & District Management

Having Trouble Learning? Take a Test

By Liana Loewus — January 21, 2011 1 min read
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There’s much talk about how testing hurts students—by stifling creativity, taking away recess and art time, and focusing on shallow (rather than deep) thinking. But a new study says taking tests helps people learn, even moreso than some studying techniques, according to the New York Times.

The research, published in the journal Science, found that students who read a passage and took a recall test on it retained 50 percent more than students who repeatedly studied the material or drew concept maps.

No one is sure why retrieval testing works, says the Times.

Robert Bjork, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said perhaps retrieval changes a person’s access to that information. “What we recall becomes more recallable in the future. In a sense you are practicing what you are going to need to do later.”

Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College, told the Times it’s possible that struggling with the material during a test helps students learn it. When rereading texts and drawing diagrams, on the other hand, “you say: ‘Oh, this is easier. I read this already,’” Kornell stated.

Many educators consider concept mapping the “gold standard,” said Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, making the finding that much more noteworthy. And even though “it’s not totally obvious that [the study’s finding] is shovel-ready—put it in the classroom and it’s good to go,” he said, “for educators this ought to be a big deal.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.