College Students Can Benefit From Frequent Testing

A recent study found out that college students’ overall performance and class attendance, with structured feedback of their performance can greatly increase as a result of frequent tests. However, implementation of this frequent testing is a challenge.

Computers can act as an aid to teaching, not just a distraction as findings from an experiment demonstrate, in which 901 students in a popular introduction to psychology course at the University of Texas took their laptops to class and were quizzed online. This study is the latest to show how tests can be used to enhance learning as well as measure it. This “testing effect” was particularly strong in students from lower-income households, per the PLOS One report.

According to Benedict Carey of The New York Times, psychologists have known for almost a century that altering the timing of tests can affect performance. In the past decade, they have shown that taking a test, for instance, writing down all you can remember from a studied prose passage, can deepen the memory of that passage better than further study. The new findings stand as a large-scale prototype for how such testing effects can be exploited in the digital era, experts said, though they cautioned that it was not yet clear how widely they could be applied.

“This study is important because it introduces a new method to implement frequent quizzing with feedback in large classrooms, which can be difficult to do,” said Jeffrey D. Karpicke, a professor of psychology at Purdue, who was not involved in the study. “This is the first large study to show that classroom quizzing can help reduce achievement gaps due to socioeconomic background.”

As Manuel Joao Costa of University of Minho, Portugal found, efficiently training students to learn these basic self-regulatory skills is a challenge universities and colleges face. Not having acquired such skills has been implicated as particularly problematic for students whose families and neighbors have less education and are subject to more social and economic barriers, thus accounting for some of the class-based differences in college performance.

Giving students frequent testing along with rapid, targeted, and structured feedback on their performance so that they can adjust their learning and studying strategies in time to improve their performance in a course is one important self-regulatory method to improve preparation and performance.

The mere act of testing helps students to remember and retrieve information more efficiently. Indeed frequent testing results in substantially improved performance as studies relying on mastery learning principles found out. In general, repeated testing of students does much more than assess learning skills.

Therefore, colleges might benefit from adopting these methods during students’ first semesters so they can continue to benefit from the learning skills in light of the benefits of frequent testing with immediate feedback. However, because of the prohibitive amount of effort required to write and grade exams in anything other than very small classes, frequent testing is difficult to implement at this scale using traditional teaching methods.

11 23, 2013
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