Roediger, H. L., Karpicke, J. D. (2006). Test Enhanced Learning: Taking Memory Tests Improves Long Term Retention. Psychological Science. 17(3), 249-255
Premise: the neglect of testing in all levels of education is misguided. If students know they will be tested regularly they will study more and space their studying throughout rather than massing it before exams.
Testing has a powerful positive effect on future retention
Most studies on the testing effect have been conducted using verbal learning (word lists)
There have been a few experiments using materials found in educational contexts
Aim: To test the testing effect under educationally relevant conditions
To determine whether testing facilitates learning beyond the benefits of restudying the material
Experiment 1: Two prose passages. After an initial study episode, additional studying or testing had different effects on immediate or delayed tests. Relative to testing, additional studying aided performance on immediate retention tests. In contrast, prior testing improved performance on delayed tests.
Experiment 2: Interested in the effects of repeated testing.
Both experiments showed the same pattern: Immediate testing after reading a prose passage promoted better long term retention than repeatedly studying the passage. This outcome occurred even though the tests included no feedback. Restudying allowed the students to re-experience 100% of the material but produced poor long term retention. The positive effects of testing were dramatic: In Experiment 2, students in the repeated testing condition recalled much more after a week than students in the repeated study condition (61% vs. 40%) even though students in the former read the passage only 3.4 times and students in the latter condition read it 14.2 times.
The situation was different for tests taken shortly after learning: Repeated studying improved performance relative to repeated testing on final tests given after a 5 minute retention interval, but the effect reversed on delayed tests. This pattern is analogous to the spacing effect –that massed presentation improves performance on immediate tests, whereas spaced presentation leads to better performance on delayed tests.
Findings are also consistent with the theory of transfer-appropriate processing that emphasize the compatibility between the operations engaged in during learning and testing phases (see Bransford on transfer).