I remember towards the beginning of the year we had to take the plagiarism test an earn a perfect score on it in order to have a chance of passing the class. We were all a little upset with the fact that once we took the test we were not given the right answers and had to take it several times to achieve 100%. He said that there was logic behind his decision in not giving us the right answers—that the more we take the test and practice the material, the more we will think about it, and the more we will learn it and remember it in the long run. Well, according to several studies, Andrew was completely correct.
A study published in Science by Karpicke and Blunt sought to experiment on the hypothesis that practicing retrieval of the information (such as taking practice tests on the information) is the best way to learn science material and remember it in the long-term.
The experiment was an observational study of 80 students split in four different groups, learning a given science text different ways. Group 1 studied the given text in one period. Group 2 studied the text in two periods. Group 3 studied for a period of time and then created a concept map. Group 4 studied for a period of time and then took a recall test. When each group was done studying they took a short answer test consisting of verbatim (recall) questions and inference questions.
Out of the four groups, group 4, who studied for a period of time and then took a recall test produced the best results overall on the test, earning the best scores on the verbatim questions and inference questions. Group 2, who did a repeated study of the material, earned the best scores on the metacognitive predictions. In contrast, out of all of the groups, group 4 did the worse on the metacognitive predictions.
The results of this experiment support the hypothesis that practicing retrieval of the information is the best way to learn science material and remember it in the long-term as there was a correlation between the number of correct answers on a test and using the practice test method of studying. Although the material that was being learned was science text, these findings might be able to be extrapolated to texts of other subjective courses such as math and languages.
Another study by researchers at Kent State University conducted a similar experiment and got the same outcomes as the one mentioned above. Their findings concluded that summarizing and highlighting the text, studying keywords, using imagery and rereading do not, in fact, help students study and learn the information. Practice tests of the material proved to increase the students’ grades.
Although there is no found mechanism of why practice tests work as the best way for studying, it would make the most sense that they improve test scores because we are better able to retain the information and we can better consolidate the information in our brains.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve used the website Quizlet, which lets you create virtual flashcards and study them in different ways, including practice tests. I use this website for all of my classes that test subjectively and always feel like I learn the material much better than if I reread my textbooks or notes. It’s also great if you’re slow at writing out flashcards by hand.
So the next time you have the choice between rereading your textbook and making flashcards, choose the one that is proven to work!