Testing the Testing Effect in the Classroom

In class we have talked about self-testing as a method of studying. This study specifically examines the testing effect and the extent to which different forms of quizzing improve test scores.

The purpose of the research conducted in this article was to experimentally examine the testing effect for content presented throughout the semester in a college course. They wondered if positive testing effects would emerge in the context of a standard course. One central issue raised by the testing effect findings is the extent to which the repeated exposure of the material stimulated by tests plays a role in the positive impact of intervening tests on final test performance. 

They were interested in the degree to which testing effects in the classroom reflect mnemonic processes that are more than just additional exposure of the content. They hypothesized that testing effects would emerge (quizzes with feedback would produce better performance on final tests than not tested/read facts), and they expected that testing (quizzing with feedback) would be superior to the reading content only condition in terms of increasing final test scores. They also predicted that short answer quizzes would produce greater gains in performance on unit exams than would multiple choice quizzes. Performance was generally better for facts exposed in the quiz condition than for facts that were not exposed. 

They found that the advantage of multiple choice performance over short answer performance is consistent with the idea that recognition is a less demanding retrieval task than recall. There was also a main effect of quiz type such that facts assigned to the Short Answer quiz conditions (exposed and non-exposed) were more accurately learned and retained than facts assigned to either the Multiple Choice or Read Only questions. There was a significant advantage of short answer quizzing over multiple choice quizzing and read only questions, but no significant advantage of multiple choice quizzing relative to reading. Those results seemed consistent with findings in the basic memory literature, used very different materials, and showed that recall promotes retrieval processing that is more mnemonically potent than does recognition. 

They also showed that cued recall quizzes enhanced performance significantly more than did recognition quizzes on a subsequent test in which the retrieval cues had been altered. Clearly, learning and retention were better when students were given feedback after missing a short answer question than reading the fact (twice) without being quizzed. Thus, it appears that giving feedback to items that were not recalled promoted integrated learning of the elements comprising the tested items. The findings suggest that feedback for missed multiple choice facts did not benefit learning more so than additional exposure (RO). 

Quizzing improved performance on two unit exams and a cumulative final exam for content covered in a college course relative to content that was not quizzed. Consistent with basic research on the testing effect, the benefit for short answer quizzing was more robust than the benefit for multiple choice quizzing. Quizzing that required recall of target information (short answer quizzes), but not quizzing that required recognition (multiple choice quizzes), was more effective than presenting the target information for reading. 

These findings support what we have discussed in class, that testing is a verified way of improving scores and the deeper the form of processing that you engage in (like short answer versus multiple choice) and the more frequently you engage in these kinds of testing, the more test scores seem to improve.



McDaniel, M. A., Anderson, J. L., Derbish, M. H., & Morrisette, N. (2007). Testing the testing effect in the classroom. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 19(4-5), 494–513. https://doi-org.umw.idm.oclc.org/10.1080/09541440701326154

3 thoughts on “Testing the Testing Effect in the Classroom

  1. tsiburn

    This is a really interesting blog post and pertains directly to the study method that is best for this class. We are constantly told to be effective in our studying habits, and one of the recommended habits is self-testing. I think this posts important because it shows the effectiveness of the testing method in other contexts. Sometimes as busy students it can be too easy to opt for more efficient yet not effective study methods. Information that affirms the effectiveness of this study method shows us that the more time we spend self-testing, the less time we have to spend studying at once before an exam or quiz.

  2. julianv

    It was actually interesting to learn about the distinctions between which conditions the testing effect works best. Short answer quizzes require us to recall the information ourselves instead of relying on cued recall, so it makes sense (at least to me) that it works better to strengthen connections within our memories. The added benefit of feedback also makes sense, retroactively, which was fun to learn. I may have to implement this particular style of self-testing for my own studies. Thanks for sharing!

  3. chooker

    I love to learn about the different study techniques, so this was extremely interesting to read. Quizzing yourself before tests will actually improve your test grade. Surprisingly enough short answer is the best way to learn. It makes you recall instead of giving you a 25% chance of guessing it correctly.

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