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Test-enhanced learning 

Test-enhanced learning
Chapter:
Test-enhanced learning
Author(s):

Douglas P. Larsen

and Andrew C. Butler

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780199652679.003.0038
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date: 22 November 2019

In education, tests are usually regarded as assessment tools. However, a growing body of research has shown that tests are also important learning tools. While tests encourage additional study and promote self-monitoring and self-directed learning (indirect effects), the very act of retrieving information in a test increases retention, understanding, and transfer of knowledge (direct effects). This finding is referred to as test-enhanced learning. The effortful retrieval of information plays a critical role in the way that tests influence learning and retention. In order for tests to have their full impact on education, several factors are important for the teacher to keep in mind. Educators should think of retrieval practice broadly and include in their tests such modalities as simulation and actual patient encounters as well as more traditional forms of testing. Tests should be aligned with learning objectives. The type of retrieval practice used should be similar to the desired end result (i.e. if the primary objective is conceptual learning, then tests should focus on concepts). The test format plays an important role in retention. Tests that require the production of information rather than the recognition of information generate greater retrieval effort and therefore have a greater mnemonic benefit. While single tests may produce some increased retention, repeated testing often will yield better learning. Retrieval practice should also be spaced over time. For retention intervals over months and years, tests should be spaced over weeks and even months. Feedback plays an important role in learning from tests. Feedback allows learners to correct errors and provides an additional opportunity to process the information to be learned. Delaying feedback may, in some instances, produce better results than providing immediate feedback. When educators provide dedicated retrieval practice, test-enhanced learning can be a powerful tool to increase learning, retention, and application.

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