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Practice tests more effective than other study methods

By John Published: January 25, 2011

Here's two takes on a study of memory and learning published online in Science on Jan. 20 that shows that students remember more from actually taking tests than they do from more elaborate pre-test study routines such as "concept mapping," which involves drawing diagrams with bubbles showing relationships among different ideas.

Take one from Science Daily:

"Our view is that learning is not about studying or getting knowledge 'in memory,'" said Purdue psychology professor Jeffrey Karpicke, the lead investigator for the study that appears January 20 in the journal Science. "Learning is about retrieving. So it is important to make retrieval practice an integral part of the learning process."

Educators traditionally rely on learning activities that encourage elaborate study routines and techniques focused on improving the encoding of information into memory. But, when students practice retrieval, they set aside the material they are trying to learn and instead practice calling it to mind.


Take two from the New York Times story:
The Purdue study supports findings of a recent spate of research showing learning benefits from testing, including benefits when students get questions wrong. But by comparing testing with other methods, the study goes further.

''It really bumps it up a level of importance by contrasting it with concept mapping, which many educators think of as sort of the gold standard,'' said Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia. Although ''it's not totally obvious that this is shovel-ready put it in the classroom and it's good to go for educators this ought to be a big deal.''

Howard Gardner, an education professor at Harvard who advocates constructivism the idea that children should discover their own approach to learning, emphasizing reasoning over memorization said in an e-mail that the results ''throw down the gauntlet to those progressive educators, myself included.''

''Educators who embrace seemingly more active approaches, like concept mapping,'' he continued, ''are challenged to devise outcome measures that can demonstrate the superiority of such constructivist approaches.''

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