Wed: Is Flunking Tests Useful?

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Homework Help Wednesday

Is Flunking A Test Useful? 

By: Tori (for Jen)

Probably not the type of blog title you would expect to show up for Homework Help Wednesday, but this article came out this week about pre-testing and a new study that shows flunking a pre-test exam can actually stimulate learning and growth in a course. Crazy!

caution testing graphicThe idea behind this if you knew what you would have to know for the final exam then wouldn’t you do everything possible to learn that material and ace the exam? A psychology professor at UCLA gave her one of her courses a pre-test, which was a precursor to the final exam at the beginning of a course, and all the students failed (as expected). However, at the end of the semester when compared to the control group class (not given a pre-test) the pre-test class scored 10% higher! She states this is because “taking a practice test and getting wrong answers seems to improve subsequent study, because the test adjusts our thinking in some way to the kind of material we need to know.” She might be right, as prior studies support:

The article states “testing, which also happens to be an effective study technique in its own right. This is not exactly a recent discovery; people have understood it since the dawn of formal education, probably longer. In 1620, the philosopher Francis Bacon wrote, ‘If you read a piece of text through twenty times, you will not learn it by heart so easily as if you read it ten times while attempting to recite it from time to time and consulting the text when your memory fails.’”

Another scientist concluded: “Achievement tests or examinations are learning devices and should not be considered only as tools for measuring achievement of pupils.”

Seemingly a pretty straight-forward idea with research support, so why haven’t we utilized this widely in classrooms before now? Or do some schools and teachers use similar methods, but it’s just not publicized?

Future research will surely continue to test this idea, but we at Learning Foundations are curious to know YOUR view and take on it. Read the article, mull it around a bit and tell us your experience with pre-testing and finals. Is this a viable method to use in schools to stimulate learning or is it just a waste of time? Do you have a better method or idea that you have used or experienced?

Help us start this conversation! 

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