Posted in Blog Archive

Posted by abeodbart January 28, 2011 at 8:49 am

“Taking a test is not just a passive mechanism for assessing how much people know, according to new research. It actually helps people learn, and it works better than a number of other studying techniques.

The research, published online Thursday in the journal Science, found that students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods.

One of those methods — repeatedly studying the material — is familiar to legions of students who cram before exams. The other — having students draw detailed diagrams documenting what they are learning — is prized by many teachers because it forces students to make connections among facts.

These other methods not only are popular, the researchers reported; they also seem to give students the illusion that they know material better than they do.

In the experiments, the students were asked to predict how much they would remember a week after using one of the methods to learn the material. Those who took the test after reading the passage predicted they would remember less than the other students predicted — but the results were just the opposite.

“I think that learning is all about retrieving, all about reconstructing our knowledge,” said the lead author, Jeffrey Karpicke, an assistant professor of psychology at Purdue University. “I think that we’re tapping into something fundamental about how the mind works when we talk about retrieval.””

Read more at NY TImes (Thanks @XxLadyClaireXx)

January 28, 2011 at 8:55 am
Taffy says:

Hey Derren. I love your blog posts but this one a few years late!

Nice post though.

Any chance you can post a bit more about mind manipulation and memory techniques? Would be handy in work!!

Keep it up my Jedi Master ;)

January 28, 2011 at 9:02 am
andy clark says:

how did they assess the other 2 methods – surely tghey had to test them as well haha

January 28, 2011 at 9:17 am
Glenn says:

So that’s “To really REMEMBER…” rather than “To really LEARN…” then. Learning is more than just recalling facts — it’s about putting them together in sensible ways. An autistic person can remember thousands of facts, but that would be a very narrow definition of what it means to truly learn.

January 28, 2011 at 10:00 am
Coldman says:

I guess this sounds pretty logical, considering the fact that I’ve learned the most in any education I did during the exams.

I guess practice exams is the way to go, huh?

January 28, 2011 at 11:00 am
Berber Anna says:

Glenn, I’d like to think that despite my autism, I’m not just a depository of facts. I mean, I like knowing things, but I love understanding things. Or did you mean savants with classical autism by ‘an autistic person’?

January 28, 2011 at 11:36 am
Ijz says:

There was a video here recently about superior autobiographical memory (
I recall a scientist saying that stressful events seem to make more lasting impressions.
I can imagine a test being somewhat stressful and hence increasing your memory retention about it.

January 28, 2011 at 3:31 pm
Ross says:

I’ve always found the best way to revise was to do practice papers.

January 28, 2011 at 3:49 pm
Glenn says:

Anna — my apologies for my vagueness. Yes, I did indeed mean a person with savant -type autism, and not all people on the autistic spectrum. But of course that’s only one example. If anyone, of any diagnosis or none, just remembered isolated facts, this would be a narrow definition of learning.
Regards, Glenn.

January 28, 2011 at 11:22 pm
Aaron (The US Version) says:

I agree with the article. This summer, one of the courses I took was Learning and Memory. It seems that testing oneself repeatedly does yield the best results, which explains why things like flashcards are so popular among students. Tests force you to really search your memory and work at putting together facts to get the answers right. Repetition, in and of itself, is a somewhat limited practice unless it is combined with testing or quizzing. My current pattern for learning my subjects revolves around the use of flashcards and quizzing myself. When I get a question wrong, I review that info again, wait a bit, then try to replicate my answer later. There’s little point in reviewing the things you already know well, and your time is better spent on the material that’s tough for you.

March 20, 2011 at 8:11 pm
wilnerfuddle says:

These ideas are not new, despite the research.
There was similar research posted in Science in 2007 or so about test-taking and reterieval.
And good students already know this. Back in the 1980s,my physics professor told us that instead of memorizing and doing problems, we should be making up practice tests to reinforce the concepts; take them like the real test. That’s how I aced physics. and chemistry and biology . .


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