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Practice and Frequent Testing

Would you like your students to remember longer what you teach them? It is easy to understand the importance of teaching in a way that helps students understand the material. For long-term retention, it is also important how and when you revisit that information.

How Can I Do This?

Rather than simply having students study information you have just taught, it is better to test them. Quizzing students frequently results in better understanding of complex material than a small number of longer, more comprehensive tests. With repeated testing or quizzing, students are more likely to keep up with the readings and lectures and ultimately master the material. This instructional principle is commonly referred to as retrieval practice or frequent testing. Consider asking students to watch this short video on frequent testing:

If you currently include tests or quizzes in your course, you might consider adding more so that students retrieve information prior to each class. Even if you don’t include tests or quizzes, there are other ways to incorporate the concept of frequent testing into your teaching.

Example: Frequent Testing Schedule
BEFORE CLASS DURING CLASS NEXT CLASS FOLLOWING CLASS
Students read Chapter 1 Quiz on Chapter 1 Quiz on Chapter 2 Quiz on Chapter 3

In this way, students are required to recall content from each chapter each time they come to class.

When Would I Do This?

Just as quizzing students frequently is beneficial, the timing of the tests is also important. Consider how a “pop quiz” sometimes works. The instructor presents a new concept in class and, a few minutes later, students are tested on the concept. Although students may perform well on the quiz, evidence suggests that they probably won’t retain the information very long. A preferable strategy is to provide more time between the new material and a quiz.Today’s new information should be tested in the next or later class. Consider asking students to watch this short video on spaced repetition:

It may sound silly, but students actually need some time to “forget” the information before they are prompted to recall it. Also, be sure to wait another day or longer before testing them over the same material again.This instructional principle is commonly referred to as the spacing effect. For optimal long-term learning, the amount of time or space between testing sessions should increase over time. Consider the schedule below as an example of the spacing effect.

Example: Spacing Effect and Testing
BEFORE CLASS DURING CLASS NEXT CLASS TWO WEEKS LATER
Students read Chapter 1 Quiz on Chapter 1 Quiz on Chapter 2 but includes a few items from Chapter 1 Quiz on Chapter 5 but includes an item from Chapter 1

In this way students are required to revisit content from Chapter 1 at increasingly longer intervals.