Most people will likely tell you they dislike taking tests. I know that I still occasionally have nightmares where I am back in college and have to take a final exam for a class in which I never enrolled. However, recent research tells us that retrieval practice, frequent and short tests over a period of time, proves to be one of the most effective ways to accelerate learning.
This is important to know because research also shows us that students tend to study by rereading material and notes. When people reread, material becomes repetitive and this sense of familiarity can sometimes be mistaken for knowledge. However, when retrieval practice is utilized as a method for studying, students are confronted with their gaps in understanding, get feedback or new information and then can try again.
I first learned of how impactful retrieval practice can be when I listened to a podcast titled “The Science of Smart” by American Radio Works. This story highlights Michael Young, a student, who credits his success in medical school to his application of Henry L. Roediger’s research to his course preparation. Roediger, a psychologist, has been studying memory for over four decades and has found retrieval practice to be successful in improving long-term memory. In an interview with Digital Promise, he states that this method is most successful when information is retrieved through testing approximately five to seven times and over the course of several days.
Students can easily utilize retrieval practice when they study with flash cards and self-testing but I think this method can also be applied to the classroom.
1) The easiest and most obvious application for retrieval practice is conducting frequent low-stakes quizzes throughout the entirety of your course. Information regarding the importance of low-stakes assessments can be found on the DePaul Teaching Commons website.
2) However, you can also use mobile learning apps such as Poll Everywhere or Socrative to check for understanding. You can review a past Teaching and Learning Certificate program workshop on mobile learning apps here.
3) Lastly, I also recommend trying reflective techniques such as the Know. What? Learned. activity I described in this previous blog post.
If you are interested in learning more about retrieval practice and other research proven study methods, I recommend that you check out the following resources:
- “What Works and What Doesn’t,” a Scientific American Article that summarizes current research and does a nice job of breaking down different proven study methods into how they can be applied in a variety of situations
- “Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions from Cognitive and Educational Psychology,” an incredibly comprehensive article published in the Psychological Science in the Public Interest