Friday, October 5, 2012

Testing Can Be Useful for Students and Teachers

Pop quiz! Tests are good for:
(a) Assessing what you’ve learned;
(b) (b) Learning new information;
(c) (c) a & b;
(d) (d) None of the above.

The correct answer?

According to research from psychological science, it’s both (a) and (b) – while testing can be useful as an assessment tool, the actual process of taking a test can also help us to learn and retain new information over the long term and apply it across different contexts.

New research published in journals of the Association for Psychological Science explores the nuanced interactions between testing, memory, and learning and suggests possible applications for testing in educational settings.

One of the criticisms of multiple-choice tests is that they expose test takers to the correct answer among the available options. This means that you only have to recognize the correct answer, you don’t have to rely on retrieval processes that are known to enhance later recall. Psychological scientist Jeri Little and her colleagues investigated whether multiple-choice tests could actually be designed to call upon these retrieval processes. If the alternative answers are all plausible enough, they hypothesized, test takers would have to retrieve information about why correct alternatives are correct and also about why incorrect alternatives are incorrect in order to be able to distinguish between the two.

In two experiments, the researchers found that properly constructed multiple-choice tests can, in fact, trigger productive retrieval processes. They also found that multiple-choice tests had one potentially important advantage over tests in which only the question is presented. Both kinds of tests helped test takers remember the information they been tested on, but only the multiple-choice tests helped them recall information related to incorrect alternatives. These findings suggest that multiple-choice tests can be constructed in ways that exercise the very retrieval processes they have been accused of bypassing.

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