We’re not testing you – we’re helping you remember….

After each learn page on Get My Grades there is an opportunity for you to test yourself. As a researcher into learning and memory I strongly recommend that you do! And here’s why….

Some findings in psychology are inconsistent or disputed – the testing effect is not one of them. Testing yourself is a great way to learn, and this has been demonstrated again and again. Some teachers have suggested that ‘you can’t fatten a pig by weighing it’ (implying that you can’t get people to learn more by giving them tests). This just isn’t true – answering questions really does help you learn.

In a typical experiment psychologists compare two conditions: one where students simply re-read the material they have been taught (as many students are tempted to do when they revise) and one where students are tested on the material for the same length of time.  A recent summary of over 200 existing studies examining the testing effect (Adesope, Trevisan, & Sundararajan, 2017) found that those students who were tested had a better ability to remember the information later than those who simply re-read it. Just attempting to answer a question can help you remember it – even if you get it wrong (Roediger, & Finn, 2009)!

So being tested is not just to assess how you are doing – but to help you to remember what you are learning. Feedback on what you got right or wrong also helps (Get My Grades does this for every question automatically, with a detailed answer explanation and mark scheme).

How might testing help you to remember? Psychologists have proposed three ways this might work:

  1. The memory becomes elaborated – there is now more to the memory. Perhaps the question was about a different example or made you think in a new way or simply just gave you another context for the topic. This in effect makes the memory bigger and so easier to retrieve.
  2. The memory becomes easier to retrieve – competing wrong ideas get suppressed and the correct idea gets easier to bring to mind.
  3. It allows you to discover what you know (also known as ‘meta-knowledge’). This means you know what bits you didn’t understand or can’t remember and so you recognise where to focus your attention when you re-read the material.

In reality it’s probably a combination of all three mechanisms; neuroscience supports this conclusion with evidence from brain-scanning studies for each of the three mechanisms (Van den Broek; 2016 )

Testing goes beyond even this. Have you ever asked a teacher if this topic is on the exam? The way in which you choose to read the information presented to you changes depending on whether and how you think you’re going to be tested (Szpunar, McDermott, & Roediger, 2007).   If you know you are going to be tested or test yourself, you will tend to pay more attention when you read the content in the first place.

Furthermore, knowing what type of questions you are going to have in an exam has an impact on how well you do. You tend to perform much better if the tests you do along the way match the one you will do at the end. This is why the questions at Get My Grades are based on GCSE questions and contain a range of question types, not just multiple choice quizzes, to match those on your final exam.

Get My Grades allows you to test yourself after each page or set yourself an assignment after reading a few pages. The evidence suggests that the exact point at which you take the test does not seem to have an impact (Weinstein, Nunes, & Karpicke, 2016 ). Just don’t forget to do it!

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