Jan 242011

I’m stealing the title of this post from this NY Times article. It’s an interesting story they tell: a recent scientific study indicates that to best learn and retain what you have learned, the most effective means of doing this may be to stop every once in a while and take a test to quiz yourself on your knowledge.

The study was conducted at Purdue University by Jeffrey Karpicke. He divided the participating students into four groups and each was asked to study some material that they didn’t know before, and asked to follow up in different ways. The first group was asked to simply read the text for a single sitting of five minutes, the second group was asked to read for four consecutive five minute sessions, the third was asked to engage in mind mapping to organize what they read once with the text in front of them, and the last group was asked to take a “retrieval practice” test. This test involved writing down in a free form essay what they read without looking at the text. They then reread the passage and took another retrieval test. A week later all four groups were given a short-answer test that assessed their ability to recall facts and draw logical conclusions based on the facts.

The group that made the mind mapping did well initially, but in the long term, one-week after test, the group that did the best was the one that did the retrieval test as they were learning. In fact, they were able to retain up to 50% more information than the groups that used the other methods.

I am a little chagrined to hear this. If you recall your school days, at the end of the chapters in all the textbooks I’ve ever used, there were various “end of chapter” tests, to supposedly test you on what you just read. I never used them. Seems like these tests were supposed to do exactly what this study seems to indicate is beneficial for students. So this is important mental note for the future, when the little bambinos enter school and they’re studying their science or social studies. I will teach them all the mental mapping and note taking techniques, but I guess I will also be making sure that they take those end of the chapter tests, too.


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