Practice testing is one of the most effective methods of learning. Indeed, the cognitive psychology term "testing effect" was coined several decades ago to discover that taking practice tests on studied material promotes more significant subsequent learning and retention on a final test than using more common study strategies. Because of the effectiveness of this learning method, many students are incorporating more practice testing into their preparation plans. However, because "practice testing" refers to various retrieval-based learning activities under multiple conditions, it can be challenging to know how to use this technique most effectively.
Which practice test formats are most effective?
Mixed-format practice tests (which include more than one question type) were the most effective, even when the practice test and final test shared only one question type. According to the researchers, this is most likely due to interleaving, which requires students to load different cognitive processes and resolve interference between them, resulting in better long-term retention and transfer.
The most effective single format emerged as multiple-choice practice tests. This is because multiple-choice questions are less cognitively demanding and indicate that less demanding retrieval practice activities promote stronger retention by allowing students to focus all their cognitive energy on a single task.
As the practice test and final test formats are identical, the benefits of practice testing were more significant. These memories are easier to recover when the recovery process is similar to how they were related to during the learning process.
It is important to note that multiple-choice tests are beneficial for memorization and fact retention, whereas short-answer difficulties may necessitate higher-order thinking skills useful for more conceptual and abstract learning content.
How many practice tests should students take for maximum effect, and what is the ideal timeframe between the practice and actual tests?
One full-length practice test is more effective than taking two or more full-length practice tests in a short period. Conducting several fast practice sessions over time, especially after attention has been diverted elsewhere, necessitates mental recall and processing, which leads to deeper learning. Distributed practice, a high-utility learning technique, is used in this method.
The full-length practice test should be taken between one and six days before the final examination for maximum effect on the final test.
Is feedback beneficial?
The meta-analysis studies produced inconclusive results regarding the benefits of feedback. For example, some researchers discovered that taking a practice test followed by feedback did not result in significantly higher testing effects than taking a practice test without feedback.
This is not to say that receiving feedback does not help students retain information because several individual studies show that practice testing combined with feedback is more beneficial than practice testing alone. In addition, another meta-analysis cited by the researchers concluded that immediate feedback is preferable to delayed feedback. However, there is insufficient research examining the various types of input and how that feedback is delivered to determine the actual effectiveness. As a result, whether they will receive feedback, students can be encouraged to use practice testing as a learning technique.
Which students benefit the most from practice testing?
The majority of the studies included in this meta-analysis used samples of post-secondary students, but a significant number used examples of primary or secondary students.
Practice testing was most beneficial to secondary students, primary students, and post-secondary students.
Practice testing was an extremely effective learning technique for all three groups, increasing the likelihood that target information could be retrieved from long-term memory. In addition, students learn to mentally organize information, which aids in memory and test performance.