How to use tests to learn more effectively

Learning Method

This section explains how to study to achieve your goals in an efficient manner.
Previously, we have introduced the timing of review and the learning method using the dispersion effect.

In this article, I will introduce how to learn by using tests.
Specifically, we will identify how effective it is to use quizzes in review.
In fact, if you study for the same amount of time, you will be able to get up to twice as many points with the test effect than without it.

Which is more profitable, reading-only review or test-style review?

What is a test anyway?
A common answer would be that it is an opportunity to test how well you understand what you have learned so far.

If the test is only meant to test academic skills, then of course taking the test itself has no power to improve academic performance.
However, recent research has shown that simply taking a test can improve academic performance.
Moreover, if you do the test efficiently, you can reduce your overall study time and still get a high score.

Here is an experiment published in 2008 by a research group in the United States.
Karpicke, J. D. & Roediger III, H. L. (2008) The critical importance of retrieval for learning.

Experimental Methods

In this experiment, college students (Americans) were challenged to learn and test a foreign language word (Swahili).
First, the Swahili words and their meanings are presented on the computer screen.
There are 40 words and their meanings in a row for students to memorize.
After this study is completed, a test will follow.

In the test, only the Swahili words are presented on the screen, and the students type their meanings on the keyboard.
The average score on this test was about 30 out of 100.

The students who participated in the experiment were then divided into four groups as follows, and the Swahili language was relearned and retested repeatedly.
Re-learning here means revisiting the words and their translations for review.
On the other hand, in the retest, you will only see the word and answer its translation by yourself.
In summary, relearning refers to a “read-only” review method that does not use a test format, while retesting refers to a review method that uses quizzes.

Group 1Re-learn and retest all words.
Group 2Only relearn words that were answered incorrectly on the previous test, but retest all words.
Group 3Re-learn all words, but retest only those that were incorrect on the previous test.
Group 4Only those words that were answered incorrectly on the previous test will be relearned and retested.

This grouping may seem a little complicated, but the point is that the grouping is based on how you study the words that you answered incorrectly on the last retest.
The time taken for the experiment, or total study time, was naturally the longest for Group 1 and the shortest for Group 4.
Group 2 and Group 3 were almost the same.
Then, a week later, everyone took the “final test”.
Which group scored the best on the final test?

Experimental results: Testing is twice as efficient as using the same amount of time.

The answer is Group 1 and Group 2.
Group 1 has studied all the words many times, so it is no surprise that they scored high on the final test.
The point is that the scores were high even for Group 2 with less total study time.
Note that the total study time of Group 2 is only about 70% of that of Group 1.
Group 3, which spent the same amount of time studying as Group 2, scored only half as well as Group 2.

In other words, if you spend more time retesting than relearning, your score will be much higher if you spend the same amount of time studying.
This result means that reading textbooks and reference books is not enough for students to remember.
The most efficient and effective way to review is to use the test and make an effort to recall the information yourself.

There are tricks to using quizzes effectively.

The mysterious effect of taking a quiz beforehand can raise your score on the actual test, which is called the “test effect” in technical terms.
It's just a name, but there are many other psychological studies that have proven this effect to be true.
The effects of testing have been known for a long time, and the Greek philosopher Aristotle pointed out that memory is strengthened by repeated recall.

It is now thought that repeated review through quizzes may transform stored memories into a “recallable” form.
Even if you memorize certain things beforehand, it won't mean much if they don't come up during the actual test.
Studying in a test format makes it easier to get the things you have learned out of your memory stores.
Have you ever had an experience where you remembered something well beforehand, but couldn't remember it on the day of the exam, and then felt bad when you remembered it on the way home after the exam?
Such an experience is actually not strange.
This is because remembering and recalling are two different things for the brain.

So how many quizzes should be given for review?
Would one time be enough?
Or should I repeat it over and over again?
If I repeat a quiz, how long should I space it out?
Here is an experiment that challenges the question of how to use tests effectively.
Pyc, M. A. & Rawson, K. A. (2009) Testing the retrieval effort hypothesis: Does greater difficulty correctly recalling information lead to higher levels of memory?

Experimental Methods

129 American college students participated in the experiment.
The participants in the experiment first learned to memorize the meanings of foreign words.
Students worked on quizzes immediately after learning, and the final test was given a week later.
The quiz is broken down into several requirements.
The first condition is that there should be a quiz every minute or every six minutes for each word.
This is to answer the question of whether shorter or longer intervals between quizzes is better.
Secondly, I decided how many times I should answer correctly in a quiz.
Under the condition that the number of correct answers is 3, you will finish studying when you get 3 correct answers in each quiz for every word.
This is to answer the question of how many quizzes should be given for each word.

experimental results

When the interval between the appearance of a word was longer (6 minutes) than shorter (1 minute), the leaners performed better.
When the intervals were short, the final test score was almost zero.
This indicates that the interval between quizzes is the most important factor.
In addition, if a student continued to get more than five correct answers on a quiz, further repetition did not improve his or her performance on the final test.

The interval between tests is key.

The results of the experiment showed that the longer the interval between quizzes, i.e. 6 minutes, the better the final test result.
To my surprise, when the interval between quizzes was one minute, I got almost zero on the final test.
Even if the conditions are the same, such as taking quizzes until each word is answered correctly 10 times, the final results will be very different if the interval between quizzes is 1 minute or 6 minutes.
We also found that if students answered correctly about five times on a quiz, further quizzes would have no effect on the final test.

What you need to know in order to study efficiently

  • If you use the test effect when reviewing, you can improve your score efficiently.
  • When reviewing, just reading the textbook or notes is not enough to keep in mind.
  • If you have a quiz to review, leave some space between quizzes.
  • You can stop giving quizzes when you can understand what you have learned.
Copied title and URL