For many people, testing is associated with performance pressure and anxiety. Most people see testing as a way to evaluate knowledge or skill-level and overlook that the act of testing enhances learning.
The testing effect is the phenomenon by which retrieving learned material from memory leads to better performance on subsequent tests than other strategies such as re-reading. Individuals are more likely to remember something if they have been tested on it than if they haven’t. The testing effect is robust across a wide variety of subjects, contexts, and ages, with only rare exceptions where improvements are not observed.
The precise mechanism that leads to improvements in learning is not known. But researchers theorize that the effortful retrieval from memory strengthens its encoding in the brain and creates additional routes from which to access the information. In addition to the improvement of long-term retention, there are other benefits of testing. Testing provides useful feedback on learning performance and identifies areas of weak mastery, which in turn improves learning in subsequent sessions. Jeffrey Karpicke JK Jeffrey Karpicke believes that retrieval promotes deeper, more meaningful learning than other strategies.
Despite the many benefits of testing, the strategy is not consistently used in classroom settings or by self-directed learners. Learners at different levels of education choose passive strategies such as re-reading much more frequently than testing. Researchers conclude that these individuals don’t recognize the memory-boosting benefits of testing. Passive strategies like re-reading are usually accompanied by a misleading sense of fluency , while testing can be much more challenging. Testing is an example of a desirable difficulty . The effortful retrieval of information is a powerful tool to improve learning.