How Testing Promotes Effective Learning: Research


The founder of Khan Academy, Mr. Sal Khan, told about the effectiveness of tests in his TED talk. Today, tests are mostly used to assess knowledge, but Sal suggests using them for learning. Indeed, there are many arguments in favor of this decision, which are proved by numerous researches. In this article, we will share some brief extracts from scientific papers, proving the effectiveness of testing.

Testing and memory

In 2006, Henry L. Rodiger, a researcher in human learning and memory at the University of Washington, and Jeffrey D. Carpick, a professor of psychological science at Purdue University, conducted an experiment. They divided the students into three groups. Each of them read texts rich in facts: for example, one of the topics was otters:

  • The first group read the text once and then passed the tests three times; 
  • The second group read the passage three times but passed the tests only once; 
  • The third group simply reread the material four times.

It is crucial to note that the testing was not limited to answering the questions. For example, students had to recall as much as possible: the number of “main ideas” from the text they mentioned was assessed. That’s why using the Storyboard that tool to create a matching worksheet is really promising.

The result was determined by final testing. It was held twice – five minutes after the training session and one week later. Five minutes after the experiment, the third group showed the best results, and the worst was the first group. One week later, the students were tested again. This time the results were exactly the opposite: the best were students from the first group, and the worst were those who reread the material four times. So they concluded that testing immediately after processing the material slowed down the process of forgetting in the long run. 

Assessing personal progress

After the training sessions, students were interviewed. They had to assess their own strengths and predict the result of testing in a week. Students who only reread the texts were more confident in their knowledge than those who passed the tests – rereading created the illusion of competence. However, this illusion disappeared a week after the final test.

But students who took the test immediately after processing the material assessed their knowledge more realistically – the tests contributed to the correct assessment of their own strengths. Accordingly, such students devoted more time to repeating the material and did much better. Thus, passing the tests contributes to better organization of knowledge and the ability to apply them in practice.

Frequent testing also teaches students to study regularly. Experiments show that students who take regular tests (for example, at the end of each lesson) show better results than those who do not face the tests anywhere but exams. This is also in line with the educational trend of microlearning – learning in small portions with mandatory testing afterward.