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Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice

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Testing in school is usually done for purposes of assessment, to assign students grades (from tests in classrooms) or rank them in terms of abilities (in standardized tests). Yet tests can serve other purposes in educational settings that greatly improve performance; this chapter reviews 10 other benefits of testing. Retrieval practice occurring during tests can greatly enhance retention of the retrieved information (relative to no testing or even to restudying). Furthermore, besides its durability, such repeated retrieval produces knowledge that can be retrieved flexibly and transferred to other situations. On open-ended assessments (such as essay tests), retrieval practice required by tests can help students organize information and form a coherent knowledge base. Retrieval of some information on a test can also lead to easier retrieval of related information, at least on delayed tests. Besides these direct effects of testing, there are also indirect effects that are quite positive. If students are quizzed frequently, they tend to study more and with more regularity. Quizzes also permit students to discover gaps in their knowledge and focus study efforts on difficult material; furthermore, when students study after taking a test, they learn more from the study episode than if they had not taken the test. Quizzing also enables better metacognitive monitoring for both students and teachers because it provides feedback as to how well learning is progressing. Greater learning would occur in educational settings if students used self-testing as a study strategy and were quizzed more frequently in class.
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CHAPTER ONE
Ten Benefits of Testing and Their
Applications to Educational Practice
Henry L. Roediger III, Adam L. Putnam and Megan A. Smith
Contents
1. Introduction 2
1.1 Direct and indirect effects of testing 3
2. Benefit 1: The Testing Effect: Retrieval Aids Later Retention 4
3. Benefit 2: Testing Identifies Gaps in Knowledge 8
4. Benefit 3: Testing Causes Students to Learn More from the Next
Study Episode
10
5. Benefit 4: Testing Produces Better Organization of Knowledge 12
6. Benefit 5: Testing Improves Transfer of Knowledge to New Contexts 14
7. Benefit 6: Testing can Facilitate Retrieval of Material That was not
Tested
17
8. Benefit 7: Testing Improves Metacognitive Monitoring 20
9. Benefit 8: Testing Prevents Interference from Prior Material when
Learning New Material
22
10. Benefit 9: Testing Provides Feedback to Instructors 24
11. Benefit 10: Frequent Testing Encourages Students to Study 26
12. Possible Negative Consequences of Testing 28
13. Conclusion 31
References 32
Abstract
Testing in school is usually done for purposes of assessment, to assign
students grades (from tests in classrooms) or rank them in terms of abilities
(in standardized tests). Yet tests can serve other purposes in educational
settings that greatly improve performance; this chapter reviews 10 other
benefits of testing. Retrieval practice occurring during tests can greatly
enhance retention of the retrieved information (relative to no testing or
even to restudying). Furthermore, besides its durability, such repeated
retrieval produces knowledge that can be retrieved flexibly and transferred
to other situations. On open-ended assessments (such as essay tests),
retrieval practice required by tests can help students organize information
and form a coherent knowledge base. Retrieval of some information on a
test can also lead to easier retrieval of related information, at least on
Psychologyof Learninga nd Motivation, Volume 55 #2011 Elsevier Inc.
ISSN 0079-7421, DOI 10.1016/B978-0-12-387691-1.00001-6 All rights reserved.
1
delayed tests. Besides these direct effects of testing, there are also indirect
effects that are quite positive. If students are quizzed frequently, they tend
to study more and with more regularity. Quizzes also permit students to
discover gaps in their knowledge and focus study efforts on difficult mate-
rial; furthermore, when students study after taking a test, they learn more
from the study episode than if they had not taken the test. Quizzing also
enables better metacognitive monitoring for both students and teachers
because it provides feedback as to how well learning is progressing. Greater
learning would occur in educational settings if students used self-testing as
a study strategy and were quizzed more frequently in class.
1. I
NTRODUCTION
Benefits of testing? Surely, to most educators, this statement repre-
sents an oxymoron. Testing in schools is usually thought to serve only the
purpose of evaluating students and assigning them grades. Those are
important reasons for tests, but not what we have in mind. Most teachers
view tests (and other forms of assessment, such as homework, essays, and
papers) as necessary evils. Yes, students study and learn more when given
assignments and tests, but they are an ordeal for both the student (who
must complete them) and the teacher (who must construct and grade
them). Quizzes and tests are given frequently in elementary schools,
often at the rate of several or more a week, but testing decreases in
frequency the higher a student rises in the educational system. By the
time students are in college, they may be given only a midterm exam and
a final exam in many introductory level courses. Of course, standardized
tests are also given to students to assess their relative performance com-
pared to other students in their country and assign them a percentile
ranking. However, for purposes of this chapter, we focus on the testing
that occurs in the classroom as part of the course or self-testing that
students may use themselves as a study strategy (although surveys show
that this practice is not widespread).
Why might testing improve performance? One key benefit is the
active retrieval that occurs during tests. William James (1890, p. 646)
wrote:
A curious peculiarity of our memory is that things are impressed better by
active than by passive repetition. I mean that in learning (by heart, for
example), when we almost know the piece, it pays better to wait and
recollect by an effort from within, than to look at the book again. If we
recover the words in the former way, we shall probably know them the next
time; if in the latter way, we shall very likely need the book once more.
2
Henry L. Roediger et al.
James presented no evidence for this statement, apparently basing it
on introspection. However, experimental reports appearing in the next
20 years showed he was right (Abbott, 1909; Gates, 1917). The act of
retrieving when taking a test makes the tested material more memora-
ble, either relative to no activity or compared to restudying the material.
The size of the testing effect, as it has been named, also increases with
the number of tests given.
Throughout the twentieth century, examination of the testing
effect occurred in fits and starts. Gates (1917) provided the first thor-
ough examination, but other important studies were done by Jones
(1923/1924), Spitzer (1939), Tulving (1967), and Izawa (1970). In
1989, Glover bemoaned the fact that the testing effect had not been
applied to education and the subtitle of his paper on the testing
phenomenon was ‘‘not gone, but nearly forgotten.’’ Since this rather
gloomy appraisal, interest in testing and retrieval practice has made a
great comeback. Carrier and Pashler (1992) developed a particular
paired-associate learning paradigm that has been used extensively since
then, and their study may serve as a landmark for a resurgence of
interest in testing over the past 20 years.
Roediger and Karpicke (2006b) provided a thorough review of the
early testing work as well as research conducted since that time. But even
in the half-dozen years since that review was published, research on
retrieval practice and testing has grown rapidly. Many papers cited in this
chapter answer important questions that came after 2006, as will become
obvious over the course of the chapter.
1.1. Direct and indirect effects of testing
One critical distinction is between the direct effects tests have on reten-
tion and the indirect effects provided by tests (Roediger & Karpicke,
2006b). We will refer to this distinction throughout the chapter.
Briefly, as the name implies, direct effects arise from the test itself. So,
for example, if a student is asked ‘‘Which kings fought in the Battle of
Hastings in 1066?’’ and she correctly answered the question, her retrieval
of this fact would lead to it being better recollected again later than if she
had no practice or had simply studied the answer. This is an example of the
direct effect of testing (e.g., Carrier & Pashler, 1992). Incidentally, in case
you need it, the answer is that the forces of Duke William II of Normandy
overwhelmed King Harold IIs English forces at Hastings, hence ‘‘the
Norman conquest.’’
The indirect effects of testing refer to other possible effects that testing
might have. For example, if students are quizzed every week, they would
probably study more (and more regularly) during a semester than if they
were tested only on a midterm and a final exam. Thus, testing would have
Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice
3
an indirect effect on apportionment of study activities. We return to
evidence bearing on this issue later (Section 11).
The above two examples are clear, but in some cases tests may have
both direct and indirect benefits. We will revisit this issue from time to
time throughout the chapter. We now consider the 10 benefits of testing
(see Table 1), but we have a section at the end outlining possible detri-
ments to testing, too.
2. B
ENEFIT
1: T
HE
T
ESTING
E
FFECT
:R
ETRIEVAL
A
IDS
L
ATER
R
ETENTION
In this section, we review several experiments demonstrating the
basic testing effect, the fact that information retrieved from memory leads
to better performance on a later test. There are perhaps a hundred
experiments we could choose from, but we have selected two straight-
forward ones from our own lab to make the case. The first experiment
used easily nameable pictures as materials (the kind of material that
experimental psychologists like to use) whereas the second experiment
used nonfiction prose materials more relevant to education. However, the
basic testing effect has been obtained with many other types of materials,
such as foreign language vocabulary, map reading, general knowledge
questions, and so on.
Wheeler and Roediger (1992) conducted an experiment in which a
strong testing effect occurred, although the experiment was mostly about
a different topic. We present selected conditions here from their exper-
iment to make our points about testing. Their subjects saw 60 pictures
Table 1 Ten Benefits of Testing
Benefit 1 The testing effect: retrieval aids later retention
Benefit 2 Testing identifies gaps in knowledge
Benefit 3 Testing causes students to learn more from the next learning
episode
Benefit 4 Testing produces better organization of knowledge
Benefit 5 Testing improves transfer of knowledge to new contexts
Benefit 6 Testing can facilitate retrieval of information that was not
tested
Benefit 7 Testing improves metacognitive monitoring
Benefit 8 Testing prevents interference from prior material when
learning new material
Benefit 9 Testing provides feedback to instructors
Benefit 10 Frequent testing encourages students to study
4
Henry L. Roediger et al.
while they listened to a story, with instructions that they would later be
asked to recall the names of the pictures. The pictures were integrated into
the story so that when an object was named in the story, the picture
appeared on the screen. Subjects were told that paying attention to the
story would help them retain the pictures (which was true). After hearing
the story and seeing the pictures, subjects were given free recall tests in
which they were given a blank sheet of paper and had to recall as many of
the names of the 60 pictures as possible.
After hearing the story, one group of subjects was told that they could
leave and return a week later for a test. A second group was given a single
test that lasted 7 min and then they were excused. The third group was
given three successive 7-min tests after the learning phase; that is, they
recalled the pictures once, were given a new blank sheet and recalled as
many items as possible a second time, and then repeated the process a third
time. The group that recalled pictures once recalled about 32 pictures and
the group that recalled them three times recalled 32, 35, and 36 pictures
(i.e., performance increased across tests, a phenomenon called hyperm-
nesia; Erdelyi & Becker, 1974).
For present purposes, the data of most interest are those on the final
retention test 1 week later when the students returned to the lab for more
testing. Students in all three groups had heard the story and seen the
pictures once, so the only difference among the three groups was how
many tests they had taken just after studying the materials (0, 1, or 3). How
did this manipulation affect recall? The data to answer this question are
shown in Figure 1, where it can be seen that those who had not been
tested recalled 17.4 pictures, those who had been tested once recalled 23.3
pictures, and those who had previously been tested three times recalled
31.8 pictures. Thus, taking three tests improved recall by nearly 80% a
week later relative to the condition with no tests.
Another way to consider the data is by comparing the scores on the
immediate test just after study to those a week later. Recall that on the first
test after study, subjects produced about 32 items. We can assume that
those subjects who were not tested immediately after study could have
recalled 32 had they been tested, yet a week later they could recall only 17,
showing 45% forgetting. However, the group that was tested three times
immediately were still able to recall 32 items a week after study, thus
giving three tests essentially eliminated forgetting after a week. This
outcome shows the power of testing.
Yet a critic might complain that the Wheeler and Roediger (1992)
results could be due to an artifact. Perhaps, the critic would maintain, the
outcome in Figure 1 has nothing to do with testing per se. Rather, all
‘‘testing’’ did was to permit selective restudy of information. The group
that did not take a test did not restudy any material, whereas the group that
took the single test restudied 32 of the 60 pictures, and the group with
Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice
5
three tests restudied 32, then 35, and finally 36 pictures (mostly studying
the same items each time). Perhaps it was merely this process of restudy-
ing that led to good performance a week later. After all, it is hardly a
surprise to find that the more often a person studies material, the better
they remember it. Thompson, Wenger, and Bartling (1978) voiced this
interpretation of testing research. In a similar vein, Slamecka and Katsaiti
(1988) argued that repeated testing may create overlearning on a certain
subset of items and that such overlearning is somehow responsible for the
effect.
These criticisms of the testing effect are often voiced, but dozens of
studies have laid them to rest by including a ‘‘restudy’’ control group in
addition to a testing group. That is, in the comparison condition, students
restudy the set of material for the same amount of time that others are
engaged in taking a test. When this procedure is followed, the testing
group is at a disadvantage in terms of restudy of information compared to
the restudy group. The reason is that in the testing condition subjects only
have the opportunity to restudy the amount of information they can recall
(about 53%—32 60 100—in the Wheeler and Roediger study),
whereas in the restudy condition subjects usually receive the entire set of
material again (100%). Thus, if the testing effect were due to restudying,
[(Figure_1)TD$FIG]
35
17.4
Number of pictures recalled
23.3
31.8
30
25
20
15
10
5
0
013
Number of initial tests
Figure 1 The number of pictures recalled on a final recall test after a 1-week delay,
adapted from Table 1 of Wheeler and Roediger (1992). The number of initial tests
strongly influenced final test recall. On the first immediate recall test, subjects recalled,
on average, 32.25 pictures. The results indicate that taking three immediate recall tests
will effectively eliminate forgetting over a 1-week period.
6
Henry L. Roediger et al.
using such a restudy control should make the testing effects disappear or
even reverse. However, this does not happen, at least on delayed tests.
Consider an experiment by Roediger and Karpicke (2006a). They
used relatively complex prose passages on such topics as ‘‘sea otters’’ that
were full of facts. The test given was free recall; subjects were asked to
recall as much as they could from the passage when given its name and the
protocols were scored in terms of the number of idea units recalled from
the passage. In one condition, subjects studied the passage once and were
tested on it three times; on each test, they recalled about 70% of the
material. Another group studied the passage three times and was tested
once (recalling 77%). Finally, a third group studied the passage four times,
so subjects had the greatest study exposure to the material (reading the
passage four times) in this condition. Thus, subjects in the three condi-
tions were exposed in one form or another to the material four times via
various numbers of studies and test events. We can label the conditions
STTT, SSST, and SSSS, where S stands for study of the passage and T
stands for its testing.
The data of critical interest were those that occurred on a final crite-
rion test, which was given 5 min or 1 week after the learning session. As
can be seen in the left-hand side of Figure 2, when the final test was given
shortly after the initial four study/test periods, recall was correlated with
the number of study episodes: the SSSS condition led to better perfor-
mance than the SSST condition that in turn was better than STTT
condition. As students have known for generations, cramming does work
if a test occurs immediately after studying. However, for subjects given the
final test a week later, exactly the opposite ordering of performance
emerged: the more students had been tested during the learning session,
the better was performance. This outcome occurred despite the fact that
subjects who had repeatedly studied the material had received much more
exposure to it. Once again, receiving tests greatly slowed down forgetting
(see also Karpicke, 2009; Karpicke & Roediger, 2008; Wheeler, Ewers, &
Buonanno, 2003). Another point to take from Figure 2 is that a testing
effect is more likely to emerge at longer delays after study. On a test given
soon after studying, repeated studying can lead to performance greater
than that with testing.
We could add dozen more experiments to this section on the basic
testing effect (e.g., Carpenter & DeLosh, 2005, 2006; Cull, 2000; Pyc &
Rawson, 2007), but we will desist. Many experiments will be reviewed
later that have the same kind of design and establish conditions in which
testing memory produces a mnemonic boost relative to a restudy control
condition (as in Roediger & Karpicke, 2006a) or relative to a condition
with no further exposure (as in Wheeler & Roediger, 1992). However,
even in the latter case, we can rest assured that the testing effect is mostly
due to causes other than restudying the material.
Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice
7
3. B
ENEFIT
2: T
ESTING
I
DENTIFIES
G
APS IN
K
NOWLEDGE
The testing effect represents a direct benefit of testing; the second
benefit is indirect. Taking a test permits students to assess what they know
and what they do not know, so that they can concentrate study efforts on
areas in which their knowledge is deficient. Students may take a practice
quiz, realize which questions or items they got wrong, and then spend
more time studying the items they missed. For example, Amlund,
Kardash, and Kulhavy (1986) found that subjects corrected errors on a
second test if they had an intervening study session after the first test.
Other research shows that when students receive opportunities to restudy
material after a test, they spend longer on restudying items that were
[(Figure_2)TD$FIG]
1.0
0.8
Proportion of idea units correctly recalled
0.6
0.4
0.2
0.0
5 min
Retention interval
SSSS
SSST
STTT
1 week
Figure 2 Mean number of idea units recalled on the final test taken 5 min or 1 week
after the initial learning session. During learning, subjects studied prose passages and
then completed a varying number of study (S) and test (T) periods. Error bars
represent standard errors of the mean (estimated from Figure 2 of Roediger and
Karpicke (2006a)).
Adapted from Experiment 2 of Roediger and Karpicke (2006a).
8
Henry L. Roediger et al.
missed than those that were correctly retrieved (see Son & Kornell,
2008).
Kornell and Bjork (2007) provided evidence from a laboratory exper-
iment that students are typically unaware that learning can occur during
testing. In one experiment, students learned a set of Indonesian–English
vocabulary words by repeated trials. They had the option of studying the
pairs or being tested on them (with feedback) on each occasion and could
switch between the two modes at any point. Most students began in the
study mode, although nearly everyone changed to the test mode after the
first two trials. Kornell and Bjork interpreted this outcome as indicating
that students wanted to achieve a basic level of knowledge before testing
themselves. In addition, Kornell and Bjork also reported the results of a
survey in which students were asked whether they quizzed themselves
while studying (using a quiz at the end of a chapter, a practice quiz,
flashcards, or something else); 68% of respondents replied that they
quizzed themselves ‘‘to figure out how well I have learned the informa-
tion Im studying’’ (Kornell & Bjork, 2007, p. 222). Only 18% of respon-
dents recognized that testing actually facilitated further learning.
In another survey on study habits, Karpicke, Butler, and Roediger
(2009) asked college students to list their most commonly used study
habits (rather than asking directly if they used testing, as in the Kornell
and Bjork (2007) survey). When the question was framed in this open-
ended manner, only 11% of students listed retrieval practice as a study
technique they used, suggesting that students may be generally unaware of
the direct or indirect benefits of testing. On a forced response question,
students had to choose between studying and testing in a hypothetical
situation of preparing for a test. Only 18% of students chose to self-test
and more than half of those explained that they chose to self-test to
identify what they did or did not know to guide further study. Thus these
two points are in broad agreement with the Kornell and Bjork (2007)
findings.
In further surveys, McCabe (2011) found that college studentsknowl-
edge of effective study strategies is quite poor without specific instruction.
She provided students with educational scenarios and asked them to select
study strategies that would be effective. She based her strategies on findings
from cognitive psychology studies, including such principles as dual coding
and retrieval practice. McCabe found that students were generally unaware
of the effectiveness of the strategies. If this is the case with college students,
one can only assume that high school students and others in lower grades
would, at best, show the same outcome.
Testing ones memory allows one to evaluate whether the informa-
tion is really learned and accessible. Karpicke et al. (2009) suggested that
one of the reasons students reread materials rather than testing themselves
is that rereading leads to increased feelings of fluency of the material—it
Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice
9
seems so familiar as they reread it they assume they must know it. Also, in
contrast to self-testing, restudying is easy. In short, students may lack
metacognitive awareness of the direct benefits of testing, while at the
same time understand that self-testing can be useful as a guide to future
studying. Testing helps students learn because it helps them understand
what facts they might not know, so they can allocate future study time
accordingly.
4. B
ENEFIT
3: T
ESTING
C
AUSES
S
TUDENTS TO
L
EARN
M
ORE FROM
THE
N
EXT
S
TUDY
E
PISODE
Another benefit of retrieval practice is it can enhance learning
during future study sessions. That is, when students take a test and then
restudy material, they learn more from the presentation than they
would if they restudied without taking a test. This outcome is called
test-potentiated learning (Izawa, 1966). The benefits of test potentiation
are distinctly different from the direct benefits of testing per se, although
in many practical situations (e.g., receiving feedback after tests) the two
are mixed together.
Izawa (1966) was perhaps the first researcher to study the test poten-
tiation effect and has contributed much to our understanding of test
potentiation. Her initial forays into the area emerged after asking ques-
tions about whether learning could occur during a test. She proposed
three specific hypotheses. First, neither learning nor forgetting
occurred on tests. Second, learning and forgetting (as well as learning
of incorrect information) could occur on test trials. Finally, although
learning and forgetting might not occur on a test session, taking a test
might influence the amount of learning during a future study session.
Izawa studied how different patterns of study, test, and neutral trials
affected later performance.
Across many experiments (e.g., Izawa, 1966, 1968, 1970), Izawa con-
cluded that neither forgetting nor learning occurred on test trials, but
taking a test could improve the amount of material learned on a subse-
quent study session. While this conclusion may appear to contradict the
basic finding of the testing effect, the contradiction is resolved by exam-
ining how learning and forgetting are defined in Izawas basic paradigm.
Izawas conclusion was that no learning or forgetting occurred during a
test trial, but she made no assumptions about how learning or forgetting
would be affected after the test trial; the testing effect can be interpreted as
a slowing of forgetting after the test.
Other researchers have continued to explore test potentiation in dif-
ferent contexts. Pyc and Rawson (2010) showed that subjects formed
10
Henry L. Roediger et al.
more effective mediators (mnemonic devices that link a cue to a target)
when they were tested before a study session compared towhen they were
not. Karpicke and Roediger (2007) found that subjects learned more from
a single study session after being tested three times relative to completing
one test prior to study. Similarly, Karpicke (2009) showed a test potenti-
ation effect by comparing three different patterns of study and test on how
students learned foreign language vocabulary. One condition was the
standard cycle alternating between study and test trials; during a study
trial, subjects saw both a Swahili word and its English translation, and on a
test trial, they saw the Swahili word and were asked to recall the English
word, without any corrective feedback. The standard cycle consisted of
three alternative study–test trials, or STSTST. Another group studied
three times before the first test and had one intervening study session
before the final test (SSSTST). Finally, a third group had five study sessions
before the final test period (SSSSST).
Figure 3 shows the results of the experiment. Clearly, alternating study
and test trials caused subjects to recall more word pairs on the final test
than for others who spent equivalent time studying. This outcome can be
[(Figure_3)TD$FIG]
1.0
0.8
Proportion recalled
0.6
0.4
0.2
0.0
024
Test period
STSTST
SSSTST
SSSSST
6
Figure 3 The potentiating effects of testing on learning. Subjects alternated study
and test (STSTST), studied with only one intervening test (SSSTST), or studied with
no intervening tests (SSSSST). The dashed line connects performance on the first test
across conditions to show the effect of repeated studying on recall. The solid lines
connect performance within each condition. The results show that inserting test trials
leads to greater learning by the final test.
Adapted from Experiment 1 of Karpicke (2009).
Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice
11
interpreted as the test potentiating later learning, because tests enabled
learning from the later study episode.
Other researchers, however, have had difficulty obtaining test potenti-
ation effects when they are examined in more complex designs that dis-
count the fundamental testing effect (McDermott & Arnold, 2010). For
example, all the experiments described in the previous paragraph could be
interpreted as exemplifying direct effects of testing because the two effects
are mixed together in those designs (e.g., the design of Karpicke and
Roediger (2007) and others described above). Thus, the major difficulty
in examining test potentiation is separating its effects (enhanced learning
from restudying) from other factors related to testing (such as the direct
effect of testing on improving recall). However, McDermott and Arnold
(2010) have succeeded in replicating Izawas work showing test-potentiated
learning under certain conditions, so both the direct effect and the indirect
effect of test-potentiated learning are secure findings.
In many standard studies on testing, feedback is provided after the test
and this condition is compared to a condition in which no test is given
(but students study the material). The test plus feedback condition usually
greatly outpaces the restudy-only condition, even when timing para-
meters are equated (i.e., subjects are exposed to material for the same
amount of time). The benefit of testing probably arises both from the
direct effect of testing and from the indirect effect of testing potentiating
future learning (from feedback), but further research is needed to establish
this point and determine the relative contributions of the testing effect and
the test potentiation effect in these circumstances.
5. B
ENEFIT
4: T
ESTING
P
RODUCES
B
ETTER
O
RGANIZATION OF
K
NOWLEDGE
Another indirect benefit of retrieval practice is that it can improve
the conceptual organization of practiced materials, especially on tests that
are relatively open-ended (such as free recall in the lab or essay tests in the
classroom). Gates (1917) postulated that one of the reasons retrieval
practice leads to increased performance is that retrieval (or recitation, as
he called it) causes students to organize information more than does
reading. He suggested that as students actively recall material, they are
more likely to notice important details and weave them into a cohesive
structure.
Masson and McDaniel (1981) showed that an additional testing
session after study resulted in higher performance on delayed recall and
recognition tests and, more important, that the additional test yielded
higher organization on the final recall test. Their primary measure of
12
Henry L. Roediger et al.
organization was the adjusted ratio of clustering (ARC), which is a
measure of how often words from the same category are recalled together
in free recall with an adjustment for the overall level of recall. Scores range
from 1 to 1, with 1 representing perfect organization or clustering and
0 representing chance clustering (Roenker, Thompson, & Brown, 1971).
Masson and McDaniels results suggested that the test resulted in
improved organization and higher recall on final tests.
More recently, other research (Zaromb, 2010; Congleton & Rajaram,
2010) has explored the relationship between testing and organization.
Experiments reported by Zaromb and Roediger (2010), for example,
showed that retrieval practice during testing improves both the organi-
zation of materials and their recall. In fact, the increased organization from
previous retrievals may provide an underlying mechanism of the testing
effect, at least in free recall.
In one experiment (Zaromb & Roediger, 2010, Experiment 2), sub-
jects studied categorized word lists in one of several learning conditions
(although we are considering only two groups here). One group studied
the list of words twice with different encoding instructions; in the first
cycle, subjects made pleasantness ratings and in the second cycle, they
were given intentional learning instructions. A second group of subjects
learned a list of items by making pleasantness ratings, and then they
immediately attempted a final free recall of the list (with no feedback).
Both groups returned to the lab after a 24-h delay and took both a free
recall test and a cued recall test. Table 2 shows the results. In the free recall
test, subjects who had taken an intermediate test showed increased per-
formance as measured by total number of words recalled.
The same outcome occurred when total words were decomposed
into the number of categories recalled (Rc; subjects are given credit for
recalling a category if one item is recalled from that category) and the
number of words recalled per category (Rw/c). Most important, the
tested group showed greater ARC score compared to the group that
studied twice. A similar pattern of results in recall was obtained for the
cued recall test where subjects where provided with the category labels as
retrieval cues. Zaromb and Roediger also showed that testing improves
subjective organization, or recall of items in a more consistent order
(Tulving, 1962).
In sum, testing can increase both category clustering and subjective
organization of materials compared to restudying, and this may be one of
the underlying mechanisms driving the testing effect, at least in free recall
and other open-ended kinds of tests (e.g., essay tests). Further research is
needed to generalize this result to educational contexts, but extrapolating
from the current work, the prediction would be that testing improves
organization of knowledge.
Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice
13
6. B
ENEFIT
5: T
ESTING
I
MPROVES
T
RANSFER OF
K
NOWLEDGE TO
N
EW
C
ONTEXTS
One criticism of retrieval practice or testing research is that students
may be learning little factoids in a rote, verbatim way. Critics complain that
testing is the old ‘‘kill and drill’’ procedure of education from 100 years ago
that produces ‘‘inert knowledge’’ that cannot be transferred to new situa-
tions. However, proponents of testing argue that retrieval practice induces
readily accessible information that can be flexibly used to solve new
problems. This issue leads to the crucial question of whether knowledge
acquired via retrieval practice (relative to other techniques) can be applied
to new settings.
Recent research shows that the mnemonic benefits of taking a test are
not limited to the specific questions or facts that were tested; retrieval
practice also improves transfer of knowledge to new contexts. Transfer
may be defined as applying knowledge learned in one situation to a new
situation. Researchers often categorize transfer as being near or far; near
transfer occurs if the new situation is similar to the learning situation,
whereas far transfer occurs if the new situation is very different from the
learning situation. Barnett and Ceci (2002) proposed a taxonomy for
transfer studies, arguing that transfer might be measured on many
Table 2 Mean Proportion of Words Recalled, Number of Categories Recalled (Rc),
Number of Words Per Category Recalled (Rw/c), ARC Scores on Delayed Free, and
Cued Recall Tests
Measure Free Recall Cued Recall
S
p
S
i
S
p
TS
p
S
i
S
p
T
Recall Prop. .21 .45 .37 .61
CI (.06) (.06) (.06) (.05)
Rc M8.19 12.56 15.69 17.25
CI (1.32) (.74) (1.09) (.67)
Rw/c M2.16 3.17 2.09 3.17
CI (.35) (.28) (.26) (.27)
ARC M.60 .85
CI (.17) (.04)
Note: Values in parentheses are 95% confidence intervals (CI). Subjects made pleasantness ratings on the first trial and
had intentional learning instructions on the second trial (S
p
S
i
) or made pleasantness ratings on th e first trial followed
by a recall test on the second tr ial (S
p
T). Adapted from Experiment 2 of Zaromb and Roediger (2010).
14
Henry L. Roediger et al.
continuous dimensions (e.g., knowledge domain, physical context, tem-
poral context, etc.).
The topic of transfer is an old one—Ebbinghaus (1885) conducted
transfer experiments—but there has been a large growth in research over
the past decade. Furthermore, transfer is extremely important in educa-
tion; the purpose of education is to teach students information that they
will be able to apply later in school, as well as in life after their schooling
is finished. However, transfer of knowledge can be difficult to obtain
(e.g., Gick & Holyoak, 1980). Far transfer is very difficult to obtain, yet
is arguably the most important type of education to apply to settings
encountered later in life (Barnett & Ceci, 2002). In fact, Detterman
(1993) maintained that experiments investigating transfer are insignificant
unless they are able to obtain far transfer on a number of dimensions.
Given the important role of transfer in education and the difficulty in
promoting its occurrence, the finding that testing can improve transfer is
an important one.
Some evidence suggests that repeated testing can facilitate transfer
better than restudying. For example, Carpenter, Pashler, and Vul
(2006) showed that testing with word–word paired associates (denoted
by A–B here) improved performance on a later test relative to addi-
tional study opportunities. When given A, subjects could recall B more
often when they had previously been tested relative to only studying
the pairs. More important, Carpenter et al. also tested subjectsrecall
for the A member of the pair when they were given B, so they were
tested on the member of the pair that was not directly retr ieved during
initial testing. Recall was improved for these A items when learning had
occurred via testing relative to repeated studying. Repeatedly testing
with one member of the pair transferred to higher performance in
recalling the other member of the pair. This could be considered a case
of near transfer.
Similar benefits of testing have been shown with more complex mate-
rials, even in learning concepts. Jacoby, Wahlheim, and Coane (2010)
showed that testing can improve classification of novel exemplars when
students learn categories of birds. Students learned to classify birds by
repeatedly studying or repeatedly testing examples of various classes of
birds. During a study trial, students were presented with a picture of a bird
and the name of the bird family to which it belonged (e.g., warbler
presented with a picture of this type of bird). During a test trial, students
were presented with only a picture of a bird and asked to name the family
to which the bird belonged (like warbler), and then they received feedback
(the correct name of the category). Students who were repeatedly tested
were better able to classify new birds than those who repeatedly studied
them, showing that testing helped subjects better apply their knowledge to
new exemplars. In two other generally similar examples of transfer, testing
Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice
15
improved transfer relative to restudying using multimedia materials
( Johnson & Mayer, 2009) and with elementary school children learning
about maps (Rohrer, Taylor, & Sholar, 2010).
In a series of experiments, Butler (2010) recently demonstrated that
repeated testing not only increases retention of facts and concepts learned
from prose passages, but also increases transfer of knowledge to new
contexts (relative to repeated studying). In Experiments 1 and 2, repeatedly
testing with questions in one knowledge domain (e.g., information about
bats) promoted retention in answering the same questions as well as new
questions within the same knowledge domain. Better performance on
new questions provided evidence of near transfer. More impressively, in
Experiment 3 Butler showed that repeated testing improved far transfer—
that is, transfer to new questions in different knowledge domains (again,
relative to repeated restudying). In this experiment, subjects studied prose
passages on various topics (e.g., bats; the respiratory system). Subjects then
restudied some of the passages three times and took three tests on other
passages. After each question during the repeated tests, subjects were
presented with the question and the correct answer for feedback. One
week later subjects completed the final transfer test. On the final test,
subjects were required to transfer what they learned during the initial
learning session to new inferential questions in different knowledge
domains (e.g., from echolocation in bats to similar processes used in sonar
on submarines).
Figure 4 depicts the results from the final transfer test. This exper-
iment showed that repeated testing led to improved transfer to new
questions in a new domain relative to restudying the material. Butler
(2010) also showed through conditional analyses that retrieving the
information during the initial test was important in producing transfer
to a new domain. Subjects were more likely to correctly answer a
transfer question when they had answered the corresponding question
during initial testing. According to Butler, retrieval of information may
be a critical mechanism producing greater transfer of that information
later.
Practicing retrieval has been shown time and again to produce
enhanced memory later for the tested material. One criticism in edu-
cational circles has been that testing appears to produce enhanced
memory for the facts tested, but that such ‘‘kill and drill’’ procedures
may produce ‘‘inert’’ or ‘‘encapsulated’’ learning that will not transfer to
new settings. However, the experiments reviewed here show that test-
ing does produce transfer, even far transfer (Butler, 2010). Along with
the other evidence reviewed, it appears that retrieval practice produces
knowledge that can be flexibly transferred, which overcomes this
criticism.
16
Henry L. Roediger et al.
7. B
ENEFIT
6: T
ESTING CAN
F
ACILITATE
R
ETRIEVAL OF
M
ATERIAL
T
HAT WAS NOT
T
ESTED
One potential limiting factor of implementing testing in a classroom
setting is choosing which material to test. It is unrealistic for an instructor
to test students on everything. Fortunately, research on testing suggests
that retrieval practice does not simply enhance retention of the individual
items retrieved during the initial test: taking a test can also produce
retrieval-induced facilitation—a phenomenon that shows testing also
improves retention of nontested but related material.
Chan, McDermott, and Roediger (2006) were the first to coin the
term retrieval-induced facilitation, providing evidence for the effect in
three experiments. Students studied a prose passage and then completed
two initial short answer tests, restudied the passage twice, or did nothing
(the control condition). Those in the initial testing group answered ques-
tions related to a subset of information from the passage. More important,
another subset from the passage was not tested during the initial test, but
[(Figure_4)TD$FIG]
Repeated studying
1
0.8
0.6
Proportion recall
0.4
0.2
0
Repeated testing
Repeated studying Repeated testing
Figure 4 Performance on the final transfer test containing inferential questions
from different knowledge domains 1 week after initial learning. Error bars represent
the standard error of the mean. During initial learning, subjects repeatedly studied
the prose passages or were repeatedly tested on the prose passages.
Adapted from Experiment 3 of Butler (2010).
Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice
17
this material was related to the questions that had been answered on the
initial test. In the restudy condition, students read the answers but did not
receive a test. After 24 h, all the students returned to complete a final test
covering the entire passage. Results of the final test revealed that retention
of the nontested information was superior when students had taken a test
relative to conditions in which they restudied the material or in which
they had no further exposure after study. Chan et al. concluded that
testing not only improves retention for information covered within a test,
but also improves retention for nontested information, at least when that
information is related to the tested information.
In contrast, other researchers have found that retrieving some infor-
mation may actually lead to forgetting of other information, a finding
termed retrieval-induced forgetting (e.g., Anderson, Bjork, & Bjork,
1994). In a typical retrieval-induced forgetting experiment, subjects first
study words in categories and then take an initial test. For some categories,
half of the items are repeatedly retrieved during the initial test; for other
categories, none of the items are retrieved during the initial test. The
general finding is that the unpracticed items from the categories cued for
retrieval practice are impaired on a later retention test relative to items
from the nontested categories.
Retrieval-induced facilitation and retrieval-induced forgetting are
obviously contradictory findings. Consequently, Chan (2009) sought to
differentiate between conditions causing facilitation and conditions caus-
ing forgetting in these paradigms. In two experiments, he demonstrated
the importance of integration of the materials and the delay of the test for
the retrieval-induced facilitation and retrieval-induced forgetting effects.
In his first experiment, subjects studied two prose passages; each passage
was presented one sentence at a time on the computer. During study,
some subjects were given the sentences in a coherent order and were told
to integrate the information (the high integration condition). For another
group of subjects, the sentences within each paragraph were scrambled to
disrupt integration of information during study (the low integration
condition). Similar to the Chan et al. (2006) experiments, an initial test
occurred immediately after studying one of the passages, and subjects
completed the same test twice in a row. Subjects completed the final test
covering material from both the passages 20 min or 24 h after the com-
pletion of the initial learning phase.
Figure 5 depicts performance on the final test. Results reveal both a
retrieval-induced facilitation effect (see the fourth pair of bars in Figure 5)
and a retrieval-induced forgetting effect (see the first pair of bars in
Figure 5) within the same experiment. This outcome demonstrates the
importance of both integration of materials and delay of the final test for
these effects. When subjects were instructed to integrate the information
during study (i.e., the high integration condition) and the test was delayed
18
Henry L. Roediger et al.
24 h, a retrieval-induced facilitation effect was found—subjectsperfor-
mance was enhanced for the nontested items from the passage that was
tested relative to the control items. However, when the ability to integrate
during study was disrupted (i.e., the low integration condition) and the
final test was only 20 min after the initial learning phase, a retrieval-
induced inhibition effect was found—subjectsperformance was reduced
for the nontested items relative to control items. Despite the fact that
contradictory results from retrieval-induced facilitation and retrieval-
induced forgetting literatures emerge, it seems that these two effects do
occur under different sets of conditions. The other two conditions in the
experiment of Chan (2009) produced intermediate results.
Evidence from the retrieval-induced facilitation literature provides
additional support for the use of testing to enhance learning and memory
in educational settings. Notably, it seems that when conditions are more
similar to those in educational settings, retrieval-induced facilitation
occurs (see Cranney, Ahn, McKinnon, Morris, and Watts (2009) for
further evidence of retrieval-induced facilitation in classroom settings).
In addition, these effects seem to be durable—Chan (2010) increased the
[(Figure_5)TD$FIG]
0.8
Control
Nontested - related
0.7
Probability of correct recall
0.6
0.5
0.4
0.3
Low integration High integration Low integration High integration
20 min 24 h
Figure 5 Performance on the final test for questions drawn from the passage that
was not tested initially (control items) and questions drawn from the tested passage but
were not present on the initial test (nontested related items). During the initial learning
session, subjects studied two passages either in a coherent order with integration
instructions or in a randomized order (low integration). Subjects completed an
initial test for one of the passages. The final test was completed 20 min or 24 h after
the initial learning session. Error bars represent standard errors.
Adapted from Experiment 1 of Chan (2009).
Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice
19
length of the retention interval, showing that the benefits of retrieval-
induced facilitation can last up to 7 days. The experiments reviewed here
show that testing can be used in classroom settings to enhance retention of
both the tested material and the related but untested material. Retrieval-
induced forgetting does not seem to occur on tests delayed a day or more
(MacLeod & Macrae, 2001).
8. B
ENEFIT
7: T
ESTING
I
MPROVES
M
ETACOGNITIVE
M
ONITORING
Another benefit of testing is improvement of metacognitive accuracy
relative to restudying (e.g., Roediger & Karpicke, 2006a; Shaughnessy &
Zechmeister, 1992). This point is related to the second one discussed—
testing informs students as to what they know and what they do not
know. However, in this case, the focus is on studentsaccurate predic-
tions of their future performance. Testing permits students to have
better calibration of their knowledge. If students only study material
repeatedly, they may think that their familiarity with the material means
that they know it and can retrieve it when needed. However, such
familiarity can be misleading. These points have direct implications
for educational settings—the better students are at differentiating what
they do know and what they do not know well, the better they will be
at acquiring new and more difficult material and studying efficiently
(Thomas & McDaniel, 2007; Kornell & Son, 2009). Therefore, instead
of simply restudying, teachers can administer quizzes and students can
self-test to determine what material they know well and what material
they do not know well.
Studentsability to accurately predict what they know and do not
know is an important skill in education, but unfortunately students often
make inaccurate predictions. When students reread material repeatedly,
they are often overconfident in how well they know the material. Taking a
test, however, can lead to students becoming less confident, a finding
known as the underconfidence-with-practice effect (Koriat, Scheffer, &
Maayan, 2002; see also Finn & Metcalfe, 2007, 2008). Testing can help
compensate for the tendency to be overly confident, which results in a
more accurate assessment of learning.
In the first section on the direct effects of testing, we described an
experiment by Roediger and Karpicke (2006a), showing that testing
produces greater long-term benefits relative to studying. In particular,
studying a passage once and taking three tests improved retention a week
later relative to studying the passage three times and taking one test or
studying the passage four times (see Figure 2, right-hand side). At the end
of the first session in the same study, the authors had students judge how
well they would do when they were tested in a week (a metacognitive
20
Henry L. Roediger et al.
judgment). After learning the passages in their respective conditions
(SSSS, SSST, and STTT), subjects completed a questionnaire about the
learning phase. They were asked to predict how well they thought they
would remember the passage in 1 week, and predictions were made on a
scale ranging from 1 (not very well)to7(very wel l ). Even though testing
produced greater long-term benefits relative to repeated studying after 1
week, the subjects in the repeated study condition (SSSS) were more
confident that they would remember the content of the passage relative
to those in the tested groups (SSSTand STTT). Thus, repeatedly studying
inflated studentspredictions about their performance, causing them to be
overconfident (see also Karpicke & Roediger, 2008). Put another way,
testing reduced studentsconfidence even while aiding their perfor-
mance. Interestingly, however, studentspredictions do line up with their
performance on a test given a few minutes after the learning session (see
the left-hand side of Figure 2, where the SSSS condition was best). Thus,
when students try to make a long-ter m prediction (how will I do a week
from now?), they may base their judgments on their current retrieval
fluency (what Bjork and Bjork (1992) called retrieval strength). They
cannot accurately assess the quality that will lead to success a week later
(storage strength, in the Bjorksterms).
Testing is a powerful way to improve retention, but when students are
given control over their own learning, they do not often choose to test
themselves or do not test themselves very frequently (Karpicke, 2009;
Kornell & Bjork, 2007). During paired-associate learning, when students
are given the opportunity to drop, restudy, or retest on items they have
correctly retrieved, they often choose to drop items despite benefits that
would accrue if they continued to test themselves. When given control
early in the learning phase, students often choose to study pairs instead of
testing themselves on them and receiving feedback. These decisions seem
to be guided by their inflated judgments of learning, but they lead to poor
learning strategies (Karpicke, 2009; Metcalfe & Finn, 2008).
Students seem to lack a good theory about what study strategies are
effective. As noted in a previous section, surveys have shown that
university students do not realize the direct benefits of retrieval practice
as a study strategy. Future research is needed to determine if students can
be educated on this aspect. For example, if students experience the
benefits of retrieval practice on learning in one context, will they then
adopt this strategy for learning in a different context? While we must
await the answer to this question, we can say that testing does cause
students to become less overconfident in the judgments of learning
(even to the point of underconfidence, as in the underconfidence-
with-practice effect). Because tests generally improve metacognition,
educators should encourage their students to self-test during learning
and while studying.
Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice
21
9. B
ENEFIT
8: T
ESTING
P
REVENTS
I
NTERFERENCE FROM
P
RIOR
M
ATERIAL WHEN
L
EARNING
N
EW
M
ATERIAL
Another indirect benefit of testing is that tests create a release from
proactive interference. Proactive interference occurs when sets of materi-
als are learned in succession; the previous material learned influences the
retention of new materials in a negative manner. Thus, proactive inter-
ference refers to the poorer retention of material learned later, caused by
prior learning (Underwood, 1957; see Crowder (1976) for a review).
Elongated study sessions may therefore cause a buildup of proactive
interference. However, research has shown that when tests are inserted
between study episodes, they cause a release from proactive interference
and enable new learning to be more successful.
Szpunar, McDermott, and Roediger (2007) reported evidence of a
release from proactive interference caused by testing in a paradigm in
which subjects learned five lists of words. During learning, each list was
separated from the next list by an immediate test or a short break of
equivalent length. The group that took tests between each list performed
better on a final test relative to the group that took short breaks. In addition,
the tested group was able to recall a greater proportion of studied words
from the most recent list relative to the no-test control group. Thus, taking
tests after learning each list protected the subjects from proactive interfer-
ence during learning.
In a later experiment, Szpunar, McDermott, and Roediger (2008)
directly tested the idea that testing protects against the buildup of proac-
tive interference. In two experiments, subjects studied five lists composed
of words that were interrelated across lists or words that were unrelated to
one another. (The interrelated words belonged to the same categories
across lists, for example, several different types of birds or furniture in each
list). Between each list, subjects completed math problems for 2 min or
completed math problems for 1 min followed by a 1-min free recall test
over the list learned most recently. Both groups were tested on the fifth list
after its presentation. In addition, a cumulative final test was given to all
subjects. For the final test, subjects were instructed to recall as many words
from each of the studied lists as possible.
Figure 6 shows the mean number of words recalled from list 5 on the
initial test and the final test. The top panel of the figure shows the results
from the experiment with interrelated word lists, while the bottom panel
shows the results from the experiment with unrelated word lists. For both
interrelated and unrelated materials, taking intervening tests during learning
protected against proactive interference. Relative to the nontested group,
subjects tested after each list produced more correct words from the list 5
and produced fewer intrusions, thus showing that the tests protected
22
Henry L. Roediger et al.
[(Figure_6)TD$FIG]
12
Lists 1–4 tested
Lists 1–4 not tested
Lists 1–4 tested
Lists 1–4 not tested
List 5 (nmber of words recalled)List 5 (nmber of words recalled)
10
8
6
4
2
0
12
10
8
6
4
2
0
Correct recall Intrusions
Initial Test Final Test
Initial Test Final Test
Correct recall
Correct recall Intrusions Correct Recall
Figure 6 Mean number of words recalled from list 5 on the initial test and the final
test when both interrelated lists (top panel) and unrelated words lists were used
(bottom panel). Error bars represent standard errors of the mean (estimated from
Figures 1 and 2 of Szpunar et al. (2008)). Subjects learned five successive lists of
words and between each list some subjects completed a free recall test while other
subjects completed a filler task (math problems). All subjects were tested after list 5
and were given a final cumulative free recall test.
Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice
23
subjects from the buildup of proactive interference. In additional experi-
ments, Szpunar et al. (2008) ruled out the hypothesis that the release from
proactive interference caused by testing is due to re-exposure to the
material because a comparison condition having subjects restudy the
lists (rather than receiving tests) did not protect against the buildup of
proactive interference.
The results from these and other experiments provide compelling
evidence that testing protects subjects from the negative effects of proac-
tive interference, at least when they are required to learn lists of words in
succession. While testing causes a release from proactive interference in
experimental settings, it is not yet clear whether these results have impli-
cations for classroom practice. Bridging experiments using nonfiction
prose materials and the like is the next step needed. However, we are
optimistic that these results will eventually provide lessons for classroom
practice and for self-testing as a study strategy. The next two sections
discuss the indirect benefits testing produces within the classroom.
10. B
ENEFIT
9: T
ESTING
P
ROVIDES
F
EEDBACK TO
I
NSTRUCTORS
So far our discussion on the benefits of testing has focused on how
testing can have an impact on the learning and memory of students in the
classroom. However, classroom testing can do more than help students
learn: testing can provide teachers with valuable feedback about what
students do and do not know, and teachers in turn can encourage students
to change their study behavior. Although these points may seem obvious,
they are often overlooked benefits of using frequent testing in the
classroom.
Tests and quizzes in the classroom are perhaps one of the most impor-
tant ways in which teachers can formally assess the knowledge of their
students, but of course homework can be used for this purpose, too.
Testing is typically seen as an evaluation of what students have learned,
and indeed this is true. Conscientious teachers will pay attention to how
students perform on tests and use that knowledge to inform their teaching
in the future. If many students fail a particular topic on the test, it may be a
sign to spend more time covering that material next time or use a different
approach to teaching the materials. Teachers can also learn how individual
students perform and what the studentsrespective strengths and weak-
nesses are. In turn, teachers can use that information to guide further
instruction.
Teachers often drastically overestimate what they believe their students
to know (Kelly, 1999) and testing provides one way to improve a teachers
estimation of their studentsknowledge. The problem of ‘‘the curse of
knowledge’’ permeates education. That is, instructors (especially those
24
Henry L. Roediger et al.
just beginning) can fail to realize the state of knowledge of their students
and pitch their presentations at too high a level. (Most readers can think of
their first calculus or statistics course in this regard.) The general idea is
that once we know something and understand it well, it is hard to imagine
what it was like not to know it. For example, Newton (1990) conducted
a study in which students sat across from each other separated by a
screen. Each was given a list of 25 common tunes that most Americans
know (Happy Birthday to You, the Star Spangled Banner, etc.). One
student (the sender) was picked to tap out the tune with his or her
knuckles on the table and give an estimate of the likelihood that the
other student could name the tune. The other student (the receiver)
tried to decipher the tune and name it. This is a classic situation
similar to a teacher and student where one person knows the infor-
mation (tune, in this case) and is trying to communicate it to the other
person who does not know it. When the senders judged how well
they did in communicating the tune to the other student, they
thought they succeeded about 50% of the time. However, the students
on the receiving end of the taps could recognize the tune only 3% of
the time! When the sender was tapping out Happy Birthday, she was
hearing all that music in her minds ear and tapping in time to it.
What the receiver heard, however, was a series of erratic taps. This tale
is an allegory of an expert in a subject matter trying to teach it to a
novice, especially the first time. Again, it is hard to know what it is
like not to know something you know well.
One hopeful new technology may help overcome the instructors curse
of knowledge. The introduction of student response (clicker) systems that
permit teachers to quiz studentsunderstanding during lectures may pro-
vide assessment on the fly. Teachers can give 2–3-item quizzes in the
middle of a lecture to assess understanding of a difficult point; if many
students fail to answer correctly, the instructor can go back and try to
present the information in a different way. As smart phones increase in use
and become more standardized, they may be adapted in classrooms for the
same purpose. These new technologies represent a relatively new approach
that provides immediate feedback to both students and instructors about
studentsunderstanding.
A more formal approach that utilizes testing to understand the current
state of individual students is referred to as formative assessment (Black &
Wiliam, 1998a, 1998b; for a brief review of formative assessment from a
cognitive psychology perspective, see Roediger and Karpicke (2006b)).
Formative assessment not only helps teachers better understand what their
students know, but also aims to improve the metacognitive judgments of
the studentsown knowledge. Students will be better able to assess their
current knowledge state and their goal knowledge state, as well as under-
stand what steps they need to take to close that gap if theyare given proper
Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice
25
feedback. Black and Wiliam (1998a) reviewed studies of formative assess-
ment, and one of their major conclusions was that implementing forma-
tive assessment programs generally improved performance in the class-
room. However, they also concluded that formative assessment programs
themselves, as implemented, typically need improvement. One important
point is that effective formative assessment programs do not simply add
more tests and have teachers pay attention to studentsscores, but rather
implementing good formative assessment practices typically requires an
overhaul of classroom pedagogy geared toward maximizing interactions
between the teacher and students. In these interactions, students should
have ample opportunity to show understanding, and teachers in turn
should provide explicit personalized feedback about how students can
improve.
11. B
ENEFIT
10: F
REQUENT
T
ESTING
E
NCOURAGES
S
TUDENTS TO
S
TUDY
Probably the most influential indirect benefit of testing is the one
described in general terms at the beginning of the chapter: Having fre-
quent quizzes, tests, or assignments motivates students to study. Every
professor and every student knows that many students procrastinate and
often do not study until the night before a test. Often university courses
include only a midterm and a final exam, and it is no surprise that the
episodes of studying occur primarily just before tests. Mawhinney,
Bostow, Laws, Blumenfeld, and Hopkins (1971) documented this point
in controlled circumstances, with tests given daily, weekly, or every
three weeks. Studying was most copious and evenly spaced with daily
testing. With less frequent testing, study behavior occurred only before
the tests (see also Michael, 1991). In addition, in their survey of student
behaviors described previously, Kornell and Bjork (2007) found that
59% of students, when choosing what to study, chose topics that were
due soon or already overdue. More frequent testing across the semester
would encourage students to study more and would space their studying
over several weeks.
One specific example of how retrieval practice can provide benefits
aside from direct mnemonic benefits can be found in Lyle and Crawford
(2011; see also Leeming, 2002). The senior author taught two sections of
an introductory statistics course and in one session gave students a short
two- to six-question quiz at the end of every lecture. The quizzes covered
only materials from the current days lecture and the emphasis was on the
quizzes as being for retrieval practice rather than assessment. As such, the
quizzes played only a minor role in determining studentsfinal grades.
26
Henry L. Roediger et al.
This conception of daily quizzes alleviates some of studentstypical concerns
and stresses on testing. In a different section, the students were given the same
lectures and main exams, but they did not receive the daily quizzes. In
comparing the two groups, the class that had the daily quizzes earned better
grades at the end of the semester on the exams than did the group without
daily quizzes. More important for present purposes, however, were students
perceptions of how quizzes affected them academically. A year-end survey
indicatedthatstudentsfeltthatthequizzes(a)gavethemachancetopractice
questions that would be similar to exam questions, (b) helped identify
important topics in the course, (c) caused students to come to lectures more
often, (d) caused students to pay more attention, and (e) allowed students to
better understand what they had learned during each lecture. Clearly, stu-
dents had a positive attitude toward the daily quizzes.
As mentioned earlier, self-testing can help students identify what
information they do or do not know, which in turn can lead to decisions
about how to allocate study time. The relationship between what a
student initially learns, their metacognitive judgments of what they think
they know, and how they choose to study have a complex relationship
with actual test performance. One model of study time allocation is called
the discrepancy reduction framework (Dunlosky & Hertzog, 1998). The
idea is that students have a goal state of knowledge that they wish to attain
and they allocate their study opportunities to reduce the discrepancy
between their current knowledge state and that they hope to achieve.
Simply put, if students already know some topic reasonably well, they will
not study it; if they are quite ignorant of another topic they need to know,
they will devote their study efforts to that topic. In short, students will be
most likely to study first the most difficult information facing them.
Indeed, Nelson, Dunlosky, Graf, and Narens (1994) showed that judg-
ments of learning for studied items were negatively correlated with addi-
tional study time; that is, items that subjects thought they knew well were
not selected for further study and items that were judged most difficult
received the most study time.
However, one criticism of the discrepancy reduction model for study
time allocation is the assumption that students will have unlimited time to
study. When a time constraint is introduced, the choices students make
about what items to study change significantly. Often students tend to
study not the most difficult material, but material in the medium range of
difficulty, material just out of their current reach. Metcalfe (2002) and
Kornell and Metcalfe (2006) developed the region of proximal learning
framework to account for these new results. Essentially, their model
suggests that students will try and learn the most difficult items that they
will be able to learn in the time frame. If time is limited, then students will
often not study the most difficult items, since they will not be able to learn
them before time is up. Kornell and Metcalfe (2006) provided results
Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice
27
supporting the region of proximal learning framework and also showed
that student learning was more effective when students chose what to
study than when the items were assigned by the experimenter. This
outcome suggests that, at least at the level of selecting individual pieces
of knowledge to study, students know how to make study choices that will
ultimately benefit their own future test performance.
Yet in other ways, students are not good at choosing what, when, how,
and how long to study. Nelson and Leonesio (1988) showed that even if
subjects are given unlimited time to study, they often continue to study
even when the efforts result in no additional gain in performance (an
effect they called ‘‘labor in vain’’). Similarly, Karpicke (2009) showed that
if students chose to drop materials from study after an initial recall (which
they often did), they would perform worse compared to a repeated
retrieval condition.
In conclusion, frequent testing encourages students to study and also
permits them to comprehend the gaps in their knowledge (our second
benefit). Thus, testing permits students some accuracy in choosing what
to study in some circumstances, but in other situations they may make
poor choices (Karpicke, 2009; Kornell & Bjork, 2007). Students often
choose to stop studying before they have mastered material and will often
choose to mass their study immediately before a test rather than spacing it
out. Integrating more tests across the course of the semester will encour-
age students to study more consistently throughout the semester, which
will increase performance.
12. P
OSSIBLE
N
EGATIVE
C
ONSEQUENCES OF
T
ESTING
We have reviewed 10 benefits that we believe testing confers on
learning and memory, directly or indirectly. Yet our message is slow to
permeate the educational establishment. Critics have raised a number of
objections to any emphasis on testing in the schools (whether achieve-
ment testing or giving frequent classroom tests). The arguments against
testing range from philosophical to empirical. Some of the latter criticisms
are valid, and we have already briefly considered some of the issues in the
chapter. Here, we cover this ground rather rapidly because we have
touched on these issues in earlier parts of this chapter or in previous
writings (see Roediger & Karpicke, 2006b).
First, quizzing in class may take time away from other critical class-
room activities, such as lectures, discussion, and demonstrations. Is that
a problem? This point is true to an extent, but how does one know
(in absence of proper studies) whether these activities are better than
retrieval via quizzing? For example, Karpicke and Blunt (2011) showed
28
Henry L. Roediger et al.
that retrieval practice produced better retention later than did concept
mapping, a widely used study technique. We expect that when other such
studies are conducted, they may show that some quizzing is as beneficial
as, or more beneficial than, an equal amount of time spent on lecturing
(just as testing is better than restudying). In addition, as discussed above,
having classroom quizzes may keep motivation up and provide the indi-
rect benefit of having students study more. At any rate, we do not think
this criticism holds water, but future research may change our opinion.
Second, critics sometimes argue that retrieval practice through testing
produces ‘‘rote’’ learning of a superficial sort, as if the student can parrot
back the information but not really understand it or know it in a deep
fashion. Learning is said to become ‘‘inert’’ or ‘‘encapsulated’’ in little
factoid bubbles. Perhaps this criticism is justified in some cases, but we
think that good programs of quizzing with feedback usually prevent this
problem. We reviewed evidence previously showing that retrieval (via
testing) can lead to deep knowledge that can be used flexibly and trans-
ferred to other contexts (e.g., Butler, 2010). Again, the burden is on the
critics to show that testing leads to problems rather than simply asserting
that these problems might exist. The next two criticisms are based on data
and must be taken more seriously.
Third, many studies have documented a phenomenon variously called
output interference (Tulving & Arbuckle, 1966), the inhibitory effects of
recall (Roediger, 1974, 1978), or retrieval-induced forgetting
(Anderson et al., 1994). The basic phenomenon is that while the act of
retrieval may boost recall of the retrieved information (the testing effect),
it can actually harm recall of nontested information. We discussed this
point in Section 7. Thus, in educational settings, the fear is that if students
repeatedly retrieve some information, they may actually cause themselves
to forget other information.
There is now a vast literature on these topics (see Bauml (2008) for a
review). Although the various phenomena encapsulated under the rubric
of retrieval-induced forgetting are highly reliable, as we discussed in
Section 7, the implications for educational practice may not be great.
For one thing, the phenomenon is often short lived, so if a delay is
interposed between retrieval practice and testing, the inhibition dissipates
or even evaporates altogether (MacLeod & Macrae, 2001). In addition,
most experiments on retrieval-induced forgetting have used word lists. As
noted in Section 7, when well-integrated materials such as prose passages
are used, the inhibition effect can disappear (Anderson & McCulloch,
1999) or even reverse altogether, leading to retrieval-induced facilitation
(Chan et al., 2006). As discussed previously, Chan and his collaborators
(see also Chan, 2009, 2010) showed that testing can sometimes enhance
recall of material related to the tested material. Thus, although much
research remains to be done, the various phenomena showing that testing
Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice
29
of some material can have negative effects on retrieval of other material
may not have strong implications for the kinds of material learned in
educational settings.
A fourth issue of concern about testing is that the construction of some
tests themselves can lead to acquisition of erroneous knowledge. Although
educators would never consider knowingly providing erroneous infor-
mation during lectures or in assigned readings, they do it all the time when
they give certain types of tests. In true/false tests, students are given a set of
statements and asked to judge which are true and which are false. Of
course, false items are often tricky, incorporating some true and some false
elements. Thus, students are forced to consider erroneous information
and perhaps they will even judge some false statements as true. Similarly, in
the more commonly used multiple-choice test, students are given a stem
and then four choices to complete the stem. Three of the choices supply
incorrect information, so students have to ponder these erroneous state-
ments. Unfortunately, a well-known principle in cognitive psychology is
the ‘‘mere truth effect,’’ the fact that repeatedly exposed statements gain
credibility and are judged more likely to be true regardless of their truth
value (Hasher, Goldstein, & Toppino, 1977; see also Bacon, 1979; Begg,
Armour, & Kerr, 1985). Thus, because (as we have repeatedly seen in the
course of this chapter) students learn from tests, the danger exists that
students who are exposed to wrong information on tests will learn that
information. Remmers and Remmers (1926) raised the specter of such
difficulties long ago and termed possible negative effects of testing the
negative suggestibility effect. Ironically, their own research did not show
much to worry about, but more recent studies have shown that negative
suggestibility is real, at least on true/false and multiple-choice tests.
Toppino and Brochin (1989) had students take true/false tests. On a
later occasion, they then asked the students to judge the truth of objec-
tively false statements they had seen before mixed in with new (equiva-
lent) statements they had not seen before. Sure enough, students judged
the previously read statements as truer than the new statements. Toppino
and Luipersbeck (1993) extended this finding to multiple-choice tests.
The wrong choices on the multiple-choice tests were later judged to be
truer than other distracter items (see also Brown, Schilling, &
Hockensmith, 1999).
Roediger and Marsh (2005) had students take multiple-choice tests
using a design in which both positive and negative effects of testing could
be measured on later cued recall test. Are negative suggestibility effects so
great that they will overcome the positive effects of testing? Without
going into the details of the experiment, Roediger and Marsh found both
positive and negative effects of taking a multiple-choice test on a later
cued recall test. When students got an answer right on the multiple-
choice test, their performance was boosted on a later cued recall test for
30
Henry L. Roediger et al.
the information. However, when they answered erroneously, the negative
suggestibility effect occurred: students tended to supply the wrong answer
on the cued recall test later at levels much greater than that in the control
condition (see also Fazio, Agarwal, Marsh, & Roediger, 2010; Marsh,
Roediger, Bjork, & Bjork, 2007). However, the positive effects of testing
outweighed the negative suggestibility effect in these studies.
Interestingly, the same pattern of results occurs on the widely used
Scholastic Assessment Test (the SAT; Marsh, Agarwal, & Roediger,
2009), and in one study in that series in which students did very badly
on the initial multiple-choice form of the SAT, the negative effects out-
weighed the positive effects on the final test given later.
Although these negative suggestibility that effects on multiple-choice
tests are quite real, they can be overcome simply by providing feedback on
the tests (Butler & Roediger, 2008). Feedback increases the testing effect
for items answered correctly and overcomes the negative suggestibility
effect for items given erroneous answers (see also Butler, Karpicke, &
Roediger, 2007, 2008; Pashler, Cepeda, Wixted, & Rohrer, 2005).
In sum, we have considered four possible negative consequences of
testing. The most serious of these is the negative suggestibility effect on
true/false and multiple-choice tests, but if feedback is provided after the
tests, even this difficulty disappears. As long as students receive feedback
on their exams, we see no major drawbacks in using tests as a learning
mechanism (either from quizzes in class or self-testing as a study tool).
13. C
ONCLUSION
We have reviewed 10 reasons why increased testing in educational
settings is beneficial to learning and memory, as a self-study strategy for
students or as a classroom tactic. The benefits can be indirect—students
study more and attend more fully if they expect a test – but we have
emphasized the direct effects of testing. Retrieval practice from testing
provides a potent boost to future retention. Retrieval practice provides a
relatively straightforward method of enhancing learning and retention in
educational settings. We end with our 10 benefits of testing in summary
form:
Benefit 1: The testing effect: Retrieval aids later retention.
Benefit 2: Testing identifies gaps in knowledge.
Benefit 3: Testing causes students to learn more from the next learning
episode.
Benefit 4: Testing produces better organization of knowledge.
Benefit 5: Testing improves transfer of knowledge to new contexts.
Benefit 6: Testing can facilitate retrieval of information that was not tested.
Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice
31
Benefit 7: Testing improves metacognitive monitoring.
Benefit 8: Testing prevents interference from prior material when learning
new material.
Benefit 9: Testing provides feedback to instructors.
Benefit 10: Frequent testing encourages students to study.
Finally, testing can of course be relied on to fulfill its traditional
functions: Permitting instructors to assign grades to students.
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Henry L. Roediger et al.
... This example illustrates how the test expectancy can lead to heightened attention in the lecture, and feedback can lead to additional study effort, especially for content that has not been retrieved correctly. Expectancy and feedback processes should lead to better retention of the lecture content, mediating the testing effect because they are not attributable to retrieval processes (McDaniel & Little, 2019;Roediger, Putnam, et al., 2011). Conversely, direct testing effects emerge when all mediated testing effects have been controlled, either statistically or by using an appropriate experimental design and setup (Roediger & Karpicke, 2006a). ...
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Proponents of the testing effect claim that answering questions about the learning content benefits retention more than does additional restudying—even without corrective feedback. In educational contexts, evidence for this claim is scarce and points toward differential effects for different question formats: Benefits emerged for short-answer questions but not for multiple-choice questions. The present study implemented an experimentally controlled, minimal intervention design in five sessions of an existing lecture. In each session, participants reviewed lecture content by answering short-answer questions, multiple-choice questions, or reading summarising statements. An unannounced test measured the retention of learning content. Bayesian analyses revealed a positive testing effect for short-answer questions that was strongest for difficult practice questions. Analyses also provided evidence for the absence of a testing effect for multiple-choice questions. These results suggest that short-answer testing is more beneficial than multiple-choice testing in a higher education context when feedback is not provided.
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... Much of the interest in the benefits of testing as a mnemonic aid has been attributable to the implications for educational reform (for an extended discussion, see Roediger et al., 2011). Although TESTING EFFECT 3 "retrieval practice" directly increasing retrieval strength is the commonplace explanation of the testing effect, a number of additional benefits of practice tests (that might actually underly the presumed enhancement of retrieval strength) have been suggested that emphasize changes in organization, familiarity with test format, and study strategies . ...
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Taking a test of previously studied material has been shown to improve long-term subsequent test performance in a large variety of well controlled experiments with both human and nonhuman subjects. This phenomenon is called the testing effect. The promise that this benefit has for the field of education has biased research efforts to focus on applied instances of the testing effect relative to efforts to provide detailed accounts of the effect. Moreover, the phenomenon and its theoretical implications have gone largely unacknowledged in the basic associative learning literature, which historically and currently focuses primarily on the role of information processing at the time of acquisition while ignoring the role of processing at the time of testing. Learning is still widely considered to be something that happens during initial training, prior to testing, and tests are viewed as merely assessments of learning. However, the additional processing that occurs during testing has been shown to be relevant for future performance. The present review offers an introduction to the historical development, application, and modern issues regarding the role of testing as a learning opportunity (i.e., the testing effect). We conclude that the testing effect is seen to be sufficiently robust across tasks and parameters to serve as a compelling challenge for theories of learning to address. Our hope is that this review will inspire new research, particularly with nonhuman subjects, aimed at identifying the basic underlying mechanisms which are engaged during retrieval processes and will fuel new thinking about the learning-performance distinction. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).
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... Students reap benefits from 299 practicing retrieval. It can bring about: increased learning and retention of material; increased higher-order thinking; transfer of knowledge; and identification of knowledge gaps (Roediger, Putnam and Smith, 2011). Research demonstrates that adding retrieval strategies to teaching increases exam performance . ...
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When people form connections between several memories that share a common retrieval cue, the tendency for those memories to interfere with one another during later retrieval attempts is often eliminated. Three experiments examined whether forming such connections might also protect memories from retrieval-induced forgetting, the phenomenon in which retrieving some associates of a cue leads to the suppression of others that interfere during retrieval (M. C. Anderson, E. L. Bjork, & R. A. Bjork, 1994). All 3 experiments found that instructing subjects to interrelate category exemplars during an initial study phase reduced retrieval-induced forgetting. Postexperimental questionnaires indicated that even when people were not instructed to interrelate exemplars, they often did so spontaneously and that this spontaneous integration also protected people from impairment. These findings, together with others obtained in different experimental settings, suggest that complex knowledge structures composed of highly interconnected components may be especially resistant to retrieval-induced forgetting.
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Spacing multiple study opportunities apart from one another is known by psychologists to be a highly effective study method (see Dempster, 1996). This study examines whether including tests during study would produce practical benefits for learning beyond that provided by distributed study alone. In addition, spacing of both study and test (massed, uniform distributed, and expanding distributed) is investigated. To-be-remembered information was repeated with a single learning session (Experiment 1), reviewed immediately after initial learning (Experiment 2), or reviewed days after initial learning (Experiments 3 and 4). As expected, large distributed practice effects were shown across experiments. In addition to these effects, testing produced significant benefits for learning in all four experiments, which were of moderate or large size (Cohen's d of 0.52 to 1.30) for three experiments. Expanding test spacing, however, did not independently benefit learning in any of the learning situations studied. Educators should take advantage of the large benefits that distributed study and testing have on learning by spacing multiple tests of information within learning sessions and by distributing tests across multiple review sessions.
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Studies of metacognition are studies of subjective experience and the utility of subjective experience for the control of behavior. Assessments of the objective difficulty of problems or the comprehensibility of text are often based on one's subjective experience with the problems or text. However, subjective experience can be altered by specific prior experiences. A series of experiments explored the effect of reading or paraphrasing sentences on later estimates of the reading level of those and new sentences. Participants interpreted the increased familiarity of previously experienced sentences as due to the qualities of the sentences themselves and rated old sentences as less difficult than new sentences. This "illusion of simplicity" was eliminated when participants who had read the sentences twice in the first phase were required to engage in new analyses prior to rating them in the second phase.
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: Learning of paired-associate items was studied in relation to different repetitive sequences of reinforced (R) trials and test (T) trials. One purpose was to obtain evidence as to whether either learning or forgetting occurs on unreinforced T trials; a second was to adduce principles bearing on the problem of optimal programming of R and T trials. The four training conditions were: (1) R T R T ...; (2) R R T R R T ...; (3) R T T R T T ...; (4) R R T T R R T T ... . Five items were assigned to each condition and the sequences were repeated till a criterion of learning was reached. Two groups of 50 subjects were run; one with nonsense syllable-number pairs and one with nonsense syllable-word pairs. Performance on tests given successively without intervening reinforcement showed no significant change in correct response probability--suggesting that neither learning nor forgetting occurred on T trials per se. The course of learning was, however, affected to a major extent by the ratio of Ts to Rs and by their arrangement in the various repetitive sequences. Learning curves plotted in terms of error proportion on the first T following the n(th) R trial lined up in the order: Condition 3 (lowest), 1, 4, 2. (Author)