A study in the latest Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition suggests students might benefit from being taught with a test, rather than to it.
Psychologist Andrew C. Butler of Washington University at St. Louis, the author of the study, found that repeated and varied testing helped students transfer their learning to new tasks better than simply studying the information. In four separate experiments, undergraduate students studied a series of six passages on different topics. For two topics, they repeatedly restudied the material; for the other four topics, the students repeatedly took either the same or varied tests on the material. A week later, the students took final tests on the topics.
Mr. Butler found students who had been retested either with the same questions or variations performed at least twice as well on factual questions and nearly 50 percent better on conceptual ones in the final test than did students who only studied the material. Moreover, in a follow-up experiment, Mr. Butler found that students who were tested repeatedly could make better inferences about new questions based on their previous knowledge, such as relating differences in the wings of birds and bats to the maneuverability of new aircraft.
Mr. Butler theorized that test-taking allowed students to apply new knowledge and get feedback to correct misconceptions.
A version of this article appeared in the October 27, 2010 edition of Education Week as Study Skills