Frequent Tests Can Enhance College Learning, Study Finds

The New York Times:

Grading college students on quizzes given at the beginning of every class, rather than on midterms or a final exam, increases both attendance and overall performance, scientists reported Wednesday.

The findings — from an experiment in which 901 students in a popular introduction to psychology course at the University of Texas took their laptops to class and were quizzed online — demonstrate that the computers can act as an aid to teaching, not just a distraction.

Moreover, the study is the latest to show how tests can be used to enhance learning as well as measure it. The report, appearing in the journal PLoS One, found that this “testing effect” was particularly strong in students from lower-income households.

Psychologists have known for almost a century that altering the timing of tests can affect performance. In the past decade, they have shown that taking a test — say, writing down all you can remember from a studied prose passage — can deepen the memory of that passage better than further study.

“This study is important because it introduces a new method to implement frequent quizzing with feedback in large classrooms, which can be difficult to do,” said Jeffrey D. Karpicke, a professor of psychology at Purdue, who was not involved in the study.

On the first day of their Psych 301 course in fall 2011, James W. Pennebaker and Samuel D. Gosling — who have taught it jointly for years — instructed all 901 students to bring a laptop to class, if they had one (they all did).

The students then learned why: They would be taking a short quiz in each subsequent class on their computer. The quizzes would be short and personalized — seven questions that the entire class would answer, and one tailored to each student, usually a question from another quiz that he or she got wrong.

Read the whole story: The New York Times

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