Believe it or not, tests aren’t just things you study for: taking tests can be a form of studying all its own. Henry L. Roediger III and Jeffrey D. Karpicke reviewed a century of research for their 2006 article, The Power of Testing Memory: Basic Research and Implications for Educational Practice. They found that frequent testing facilitates retention and recall more than passive studying techniques:
“Taking a test on material can have a greater positive effect on future retention of that material than spending an equivalent amount of time restudying the material, even when performance on the test is far from perfect and no feedback is given on missed information. This phenomenon of improved performance from taking a test is known as the testing effect.”
Often, students just study passively by just rereading and rewriting notes. Testing, on the other hand, requires active recall of targeted information. This, the very act of retrieving information during a test can cement the information more securely into your long term memory. As an added bonus, testing allows you to find out what you really know and what do you need to work on.
To study successfully, incorporate ways to test material actively:
- Have a friend or family member quiz you on information.
- Make up flashcard games, especially for long lists of vocabulary words or discrete facts.
- Take timed practice tests and quizzes to develop better time management, recall, and judgment.
Whatever you do, quantify and track results so you can monitor incremental improvement. Business writer H. James Harrington said it best: “Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”