New Research Reveals Benefits of Pop Quizzes
I received a press release from the journal Science that new research shows, "Quizzes don't just tell us how well we've memorized something—they actually help us remember it." It reminded me of a conversation while I was at Scholastic about how students often are so sure that they know how to do the math because they look at a problem, then the answer, and think, "yep, that makes sense." They never actually try to solve the problem without looking at the answer and then draw a blank on the exam. There's just something about having to retrieve things from memory that seems to help us learn, but what is that something?
In the study, English speaking participants were given Swahili words to learn. Some of the participants were given a quiz on the information before a final test a week later. Others were given extra study time in lieu of the quiz. It turns out that the group that was given the quiz performed three(!) times better than the study-only group. How this happened, the release states, "seems to be that we give ourselves more effective mental hints when we're being tested than when we're just studying."
Researchers Mary Pyc and Katherine Rawson "call
these mental hints 'mediators' and define them as words, phrases or concepts that link a cue to the 'target' that we're trying to remember. They hypothesized that mediators used during testing are more likely to be remembered and used effectively than mediators used when simply studying. During the initial study period, the students were asked to come up with mediators that looked or sounded similar to the foreign language cue and were semantically related to the English target. In the 'wingu-cloud' example, 'wing' might be the mediator." Students who were quizzed were better able to remember their mediators during test day.
I can remember several mnemonic strategies from math class, such as "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally" for order of operations. Perhaps all those exams have drilled that into my brain to this day. It's important to note, though, that using mediators is just one explanation for why tests may help us remember things. Though there's strong research support that practice tests help people remember things, the explanations for why that is are being actively studied. For example, Science also reports in their online news that other research has suggested that testing enhances learning by helping students allocate study time to the most difficult-to-master concepts.
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