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Quizzing Works, the Evidence Says

Quizzing Works, the Evidence Says

U.S. Department of Education

The level of evidence supporting the use of quizzing is strong based on nine experimental studies examining the effects of this practice for improving K-12 students’ performance on academic content or classroom performance, over 30 experimental studies that examined the effect of this strategy for improving college students’ academic performance, and the large number of carefully controlled laboratory experiments that have examined the testing effect.

Laboratory experiments have repeatedly demonstrated that taking a test on studied material promotes remembering that material on a final test, a phenomenon called the “testing effect.” Experimental memory research has established that the testing effect is very robust. The testing effect generalizes across a wide range of materials, including word lists, pictorial information, and prose material. Testing effects are observed across a range of ages from elementary school children to college students. Testing effects surface when the intervening tests are different from the final tests; for example, intervening tests with fill-in-the-blank items improve subsequent performance on tests that use multiple- choice and true/false items and vice versa.

Perhaps most importantly, researchers have found that having students take a test is almost always a more potent learning device than having students spend additional time studying the target material. This is especially true when the test requires students to actively recall information (e.g., providing answers to fill-in-the-blank or short-answer/essay type items). That is, the act of recalling information from memory helps to cement the information to memory and thereby reduces forgetting.

By answering the questions on the quiz, the student is practicing the act of recalling specific information from memory. For example, a recent study examined the effect of quizzing on the performance of college students enrolled in a web- based Brain and Behavior course. After completing the week’s reading, students either (a) took multiple- choice or short-answer quizzes, (b) re-read the key facts, or © did not revisit the key facts presented during that week’s reading. After completing the quizzes, students received feedback that included a restatement of the quiz question and the correct answer. This process was followed throughout the semester, and students took both unit tests and a cumulative final test. Facts that students had been re-exposed to through the quizzes were more likely to be remembered correctly on the unit tests as compared to facts that students had simply reread (or restudied). In addition, the benefit of completing short-answer questions on the weekly quizzes extended to performance on the final test.

Moreover, several recent studies have shown that testing not only enhances learning—it also reduces the rate at which information is forgotten. One recent high school-based study showed that a quiz format review of historical facts reduced forgetting over the subsequent 16 weeks, when compared to a review that presented the same content to students without requiring them to actually retrieve the facts.

Join the Discussion: What is Your Testing Technique?

How to carry out the recommendation

To carry out this recommendation, teachers should give students closed-book quizzes between the initial exposure to the material and the final assessment at the end of the semester or end of the year.

Note that the quizzes can be both formal quizzes and informal testing situations, such as playing a Jeopardy-like game. The principle is that requiring students to actively recall information from memory gives them opportunities to practice recalling or retrieving that information from memory, and this practice helps to solidify that knowledge in the student’s memory.

Is it harmful for a learner to produce an answer that has a high likelihood of being an error? If so, should efforts be taken to discourage production of incorrect responses? Not surprisingly, in the absence of corrective feedback, any errors produced on one test will remain present, and will reappear on subsequent tests. However, guessing when unsure has not so far been shown to have detrimental effects, at least with memory for facts and vocabulary. In sum, then, our recommendation is to take every opportunity to prompt students to retrieve information, and whenever a substantial number of errors are expected, to be sure to make corrective feedback available.

As indicated, a delayed re-exposure to course content helps students remember key information longer. In addition, quizzes or tests that require students to actively recall specific information (e.g., questions that use fill-in-the-blank or short-answer formats, as opposed to multiple-choice items) directly promote learning and help students remember information longer. To use quizzes or tests to promote learning and retention of information, correct-answer feedback should be provided.

Roadblock Teachers may feel that they do not have the out-of-class time to prepare and grade additional short-answer quizzes.

Solution. With the advent of technology, there are websites available to teachers that allow them to create quizzes quickly using content specified by the teachers. For example, on the website, teachers can create quizzes or puzzles that provide students with the opportunity to test themselves on their mastery of key facts and concepts. Such sites provide immediate feedback and the opportunity for students to actively recall the material. Teachers should also explore websites that accompany assigned textbooks and, as appropriate, require students to use them during study. Most K-12 academic publishing sites include automatically graded self-check quizzes, flashcards, and other types of self-testing opportunities that students can use in an online format.

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