More evidence that frequent testing enhances learning

by Grace

Daily quizzes enhance college learning, but unfortunately they are not a commonly used teaching technique.

Grading college students on quizzes given at the beginning of every class, rather than on midterms or a final exam, increases both attendance and overall performance, scientists reported Wednesday.

The findings — from an experiment in which 901 students in a popular introduction to psychology course at the University of Texas took their laptops to class and were quizzed online — demonstrate that the computers can act as an aid to teaching, not just a distraction.

Moreover, the study is the latest to show how tests can be used to enhance learning as well as measure it. The report, appearing in the journal PLoS One, found that this “testing effect” was particularly strong in students from lower-income households.

Other research has also found that study techniques such “taking a test — say, writing down all you can remember from a studied prose passage — can deepen the memory of that passage better than further study”.

The benefits of frequent testing:

  • Improved learning
  • Improved attendance
  • Reduced achievement gap

Improved attendance probably leads to improved learning.

Technology makes frequent testing easier to implement.

The study involved students bringing their laptops to class each day, but there are other ways that technology could be used in frequent testing.  Mobile devices, SMART Boards with clickers, and in-class computers could all be utilized.  For all their flowery talk about 21st century skills, many schools are missing out on some basic ways they could use digital devices to improve student achievement levels.

Related:  Do students get too much homework, or too little feedback? (Cost of College)


2 Comments to “More evidence that frequent testing enhances learning”

  1. I totally agree that more frequent testing, as well as more frequent “doing” of all types (homework, labs, etc) really improves learning. HIgher ed has been moving dramatically in that direction. I don’t think technology makes any difference though, and is just a way to spend money needlessly. You can give quizzes on paper just as easilly as on the computer. Clickers are mainly a tool for huge lectures and not really needed in K12 size classes. I do the in-class polling without clickers, in our case, using the student laptops and a website. You could do it without any technology at all, having students show hands or pass up votes on paper.
    More important is how you do the polling. I use it as part of a method called peer based learning, which has a fair amount of research support for effectiveness in STEM education. There is more to the method than just polling. Students take a quiz when they come to class to ensure they have done the reading. Poll questions have to be designed to get at underlying principles – they can’t just be random recall of factoids. After a poll, students are expected to discuss results in groups and then revote.


  2. “HIgher ed has been moving dramatically in that direction. ”

    That’s good to hear. Do you think that’s mainly your field, or is this more widespread?

    The objection to using a show of hands is that some students are reluctant to show their ignorance. Individual whiteboards that students raise up to show the teacher is one alternative that has been used successfully. But one advantage of technology is the capability of recording and tracking results for the teacher. That saves time and allows the teacher to use data more effectively in addressing learning gaps.


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