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From the Academic Dean: The Benefits of Testing
Posted 05/07/2015 01:35PM

Recently, I wrote about Standardized testing and the new SAT (versus the CWRA), so I was pleased to see this piece in the NY Times this week, “The Big Problem With the New SAT”, which offers a pithy critique and does a good job of explaining the difference between norm-referenced versus criterion-referenced assessments. The gist of that critique is as follows:  It still ranks students, It doesn’t assess learning.

So this week I’d like to draw attention to the benefits of testing that does assess learning as described by Henry L. Roediger, Professor of Psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis, and co-author of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (one of York’s suggested community reading books this year).

Educators, parents, and students obviously recognize testing as a form of assessment and evaluation for the purposes of assigning grades. In “Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice”, Roediger reviews the body of research that speaks to “reasons why increased testing in educational settings is beneficial to learning and memory” and how testing can “greatly improve performance.” Those ten benefits (listed below) include direct benefits, such as retention of knowledge, transfer of knowledge to other situations, and improved organization and coherence. Testing also provides indirect benefits, from increasing frequency of studying, permitting gap discovery in knowledge (areas in need of growth), and self-monitoring of learning progress (metacognition).

Ten Benefits of Testing

Benefit 1: The testing effect: Retrieval aids later retention.

Benefit 2: Testing identifies gaps in knowledge.

Benefit 3: Testing causes students to learn more from the next learning episode.

Benefit 4: Testing produces better organization of knowledge.

Benefit 5: Testing improves transfer of knowledge to new contexts.

Benefit 6: Testing can facilitate retrieval of information that was not tested.

Benefit 7: Testing improves metacognitive monitoring.

Benefit 8: Testing prevents interference from prior material when learning new material.

Benefit 9: Testing provides feedback to instructors.

Benefit 10: Frequent testing encourages students to study.

The article discusses each of these benefits in more detail as well as the research behind these conclusions. Roediger, then, reviews the research on negative consequences of testing, specifically negative suggestibility effects of multiple choice items on tests that do not feature timely or detailed feedback (one of my main complaints with the College Board’s use of multiple choice items for Advanced Placement exams).

Ultimately, the research here delivers the following message to students -- a message we have been rather intentional about delivering at York -- as a study strategy, self-testing, or what cognitive psychologists like to call retrieval practice, is greatly beneficial to learning. As we head into end of year exams, we encourage families to consider these findings, and we urge students to leverage the option to self-test in preparation for end of year exams.

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