It’s September, and for millions of children, teachers, and parents, this time of year heralds the end of summer break and the beginning of a new school year. You might not be in a formal schooling environment any longer, but the sight of school buses and backpacks probably still triggers some strong memories, both good and bad!
If you’re like a lot of students, some of your less-pleasant memories from school might involve testing. As controversy over educational reforms has grown in recent years, “testing” has become something of a four-letter word. If the thought of taking a test still makes your stomach churn, you might want to reconsider: it turns out that testing your knowledge actually helps you retain it better than regular study alone.
The testing effect, or retrieval practice effect, shows that being quizzed on material improves retention, possibly because the act of information retrieval required in a testing situation helps that information become stored in your long-term memory. In multiple studies, students who learn material and are tested on it exhibit better retention days and weeks later than their counterparts who only study and review. It’s not known exactly why the testing effect works so well, but there are a few possible factors at play. One theory is that testing allows you to practice retrieving encoded information, creating new pathways for retrieval. From a practical standpoint, taking the test or quiz forces you to retrieve the information, which imitates your real-life use of the language more closely than study or re-reading. Additionally, students who study repeatedly but are not tested are more likely to be overconfident in their knowledge — it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking you’ve learned the information when it’s right in front of you. There are some caveats to this, of course. High-stakes tests, overly easy or overly difficult tests, or tests that take place too long after the original presentation of information do not present these benefits. You likely experienced tests in school and standardized testing as assessment tools, not learning tools, which is why you might not have warm and fuzzy feelings toward the process: there was too much at stake.
Outside of the formal classroom, how can you come to look at tests as a good thing and take advantage of the testing effect? Fortunately, you don’t need to take a test as huge as the SAT to benefit from testing. First, you can stop thinking of testing as something with permanent results. In a self-paced learning environment, the point of a test isn’t necessarily the outcome, but the process, so getting 100% of answers correct isn’t nearly as important as the act of taking the test. Keeping a positive attitude towards testing and understanding that it’s a stepping stone, not an endpoint, is vital to your success.
Fortunately, Fluencia makes it easy to test yourself on a regular basis! Each unit includes review tests, and our timed Smart Reviews test you at key intervals, focusing especially on the topics you’ve struggled with. Check it out for yourself!
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