Five benefits of quizzing according to cognitive science

25th May 2016 at 10:01
The Learning Scientists are a group of US education academics that aim to increase evidence-based practice in schools. In the second installment of a series of blogs for TES USA, an assistant professor makes the case for testing and lists five key benefits of getting students to recall information 

Quizzes and tests help students to learn, because these tasks involve retrieval practice, or thinking back to information previously learned and bringing it to mind. But quizzes do more than just jog students’ memories. Here are five different benefits of retrieval practice.

1) Quizzes help students learn
Cognitive psychology strongly suggests that the act of retrieving information directly helps students learn. This benefit occurs even in the absence of feedback and in the absence of an opportunity to restudy the information. The process of retrieval – bringing the information to mind – actually leads to learning all by itself. What’s more, bringing the information to mind can sometimes improve students’ ability to apply the information in new situations.

2) Quizzes give teachers feedback

Frequent quizzes give the teacher an idea of how well the class as a whole grasps the concepts. In my class, if a couple of students are struggling, I can reach out to them and encourage them to come to my office to ask questions individually. If many students are struggling, this tells me that I need to do something different during class. I can rethink the way I am explaining something, provide additional instruction in the classroom, or create an engaging activity for the class to do together to make sure the content is clear.

3) Quizzes increase attendance

When in-class quizzes are frequent, students need to be in class in order to take the quizzes. For example, I give pop extra credit quizzes, and my students know that they can only get extra credit from the quizzes if they are present in class. So, by providing random extra credit quizzes, I’m hoping to motivate my students to attend, and to come prepared for class.

4) Quizzes promote test expectancy

In addition to coming to class, students may pay closer attention to the material when they are expecting to be quizzed. Research has shown that when students expect a test, they perform better on the test. Furthermore, frequent quizzing leads students to expect to be quizzed, leading to better performance overall.

5) Studying is more efficient after a quiz

Quizzes help students identify what they know and what they don’t know. The students then have a better idea of how well they are grasping the material, hopefully motivating them to study more and helping them allocate their study time effectively by focusing on the information that still needs more practice. What’s more, though, in some cases a test can make the next study opportunity more effective. Teachers can help students see what topics they are not grasping by providing feedback after quizzes; and that feedback need not be immediate to be most effective.

Dr Megan Smith (@DrSmithRIC) is an assistant professor at Rhode Island College. A version of this blog post originally appeared on the Learning Scientists blog. Follow the Learning Scientists on Twitter at @AceThatTest.

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