Forget the Graphic Organizers, Does Taking Tests Help You Learn?

Learning-through-testing This should stir things up!

A New York Times story "Test-Taking Cements Knowledge Better Than Studying, Researchers Say" (January 21, 2011) reports…


Graph: NY Times


"Taking a test is not just a passive mechanism for assessing how much people know, according to new research. It actually helps people learn, and it works better than a number of other studying techniques.

The research, published online Thursday in the journal Science, found that students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods.

One of those methods – repeatedly studying the material – is familiar to legions of students who cram before exams. The other – having students draw detailed diagrams documenting what they are learning – is prized by many teachers because it forces students to make connections among facts.

These other methods not only are popular, the researchers reported; they also seem to give students the illusion that they know material better than they do."  More

6 thoughts on “Forget the Graphic Organizers, Does Taking Tests Help You Learn?

  1. Reply
    ElonaHartjes - January 20, 2011

    Yes, tests help my students learn. They are interested in marks and pay attention if it”counts”. If they don’t get paid with marks, they aren’t interested.

    Games sometimes are better. I made up a jeopardy game and played it in math class and had kids tell me they would have studied for the game if they had known they were going to play it. The student told me he hates losing games. Go figure!

  2. Reply
    Mark Salata - January 21, 2011

    Given that my PhD thesis was on concept-mapping, I’ll be looking over this research paper ASAP. My first question will be – how close does their concept-mapping resemble Joe Novak’s work (the original designer of concept mapping)? Second question – what would be the combined effect of concept-mapping and their retrieval practice? Thanks for the post.

  3. Reply
    Peter Pappas - January 22, 2011

    Elona and Mark,
    The study seemed rather counter intuitive – will be interesting to see how well it holds up.

  4. Reply
    Peter Pappas - January 26, 2011

    Here’s some interesting NY Times letters to the editor responding to the original article:

  5. Reply
    Ken - February 12, 2011

    I also wrote about this recently in reaction to a post from Jakob Nielsen (a big name in the web usability world) and not an educator. One of his ideas is that people remember much more after reading if they are asked to retrieve information about the text from memory using a test.
    more at

  6. Reply
    Peter Pappas - February 12, 2011

    Thanks for the comment. I enjoyed your post and your links to Nielsen’s work – thought provoking stuff!

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