Monday, January 24, 2011

Hot Seat Learning - Why Testing is Not All Bad

In medical school, I had a great Radiology teacher who loved putting students in the hot seat. A scan would be put on the light box, and he would rap a chair at the front of the lecture hall and call down a student to read an Xray or CT scan in front of a class of 200 students. Still gives me the willies thinking about it - as well similar flashbulb memories involving my old Neurology chairman.

Obvious such methods could be abusive, but without a doubt, I know prepared more than I would have knowing that I would be tested, and remembered more in the panic of the seat (I still remember some cases), than if I had been permitted to blissful doze off to the drone of lecturers. It was important to test then - because sooner than we realized it, we'd be in charge of people's lives.

The New York Times now has an article titled To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test based on recent research from Purdue.

Researchers "...found that students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods (e.g. like concept mapping) ... 'I think that learning is all about retrieving, all about reconstructing our knowledge,' said the lead author, Jeffrey Karpicke, an assistant professor of psychology at Purdue University. 'I think that we’re tapping into something fundamental about how the mind works when we talk about retrieval.' "

Karpicke has other studies on studying efficiency.

Testing at its best is:

- Test and Re-Test - retesting improves retention, not one-time only testing. So if re-testing rarely occurs in the classroom (i.e. quiz then test on same material), students should practice quizzing themselves, do practice problems, and correct their work in order to learn from their mistakes.
- Quiz Me: Retrieve, Don't Just Elaborate Elaborative study may be necessary for students with memory difficulties (mnemonics, acronyms, etc.), but in a pinch - having to retrieve information will be a better strategy for committing information to long term memory
- Effort + Retrieval are Good If students had to struggle a bit before comprehending a sentence, they were more likely to remember it later (even though they would not recognize the struggle being any benefit)
- Repeated Re-testing and Avoiding the 'Mastery Illusion' When Karpicke studied effect studying, repeated re-testing was a effective strategy, but many students succumbed to the 'mastery illusion' putting away materials (i.e. they thought they 'knew') before they had really filed information into long-term memory.

It's kind of surprising seeing such practical educational information in a journal such as Science, but it's good they published it. In our home, we've found that quizzing to study is essential for our kids as they have headed into high school years. Besides benefits to long-term memory in general, testing practice is good for personal learners who remember personal events of testing with flashcards with Mom, Dad, or bro vs. practice alone reading notes, and testing practice is often very valuable for inductive learners who need to see how information is applied to a particular situation or case before they really understand how new knowledge fits in with what they already know.

For those who want resource links to help with self-testing, we use (also have the Mental Case app for cards to be loaded on an iPhone), outside test book like SAT subject books, especially if they might have to take those tests eventually when applying to college.

Now that time has elapsed, I have a greater appreciation for hot seat testing even if I was the one on the spot. The format of this sort of testing allowed for a lot of re-testing before real testing came around - and because everyone came under-fire, there weren't any shaming victims (a playful/humorous attitude of the professor definitely helped - this was definitely a forte of my Radiology professor, Dr. Ross). I don't know if this sort of practice is still common at schools any more - and while I admit it might seem draconian, it's interesting to know a little more why it worked.

Picture credit:cohdra

1 comment:

  1. Being put in the hot seat (happened to me more than once in college and law school) makes sure that you actually do the homework and pay attention. Fear is a great motivator!

    When we teach our students study skills, we tell them that, in order to really remember something, they have to give the information "significance." I'm sure fear of embarrasment will do that!

    Also, regarding comprehension of material, one of our study techniques involves having the student rewrite class notes in a condensed form and in the student's own words. Not only does this get tactile learning into play, it forces the student to better understand the material so that he can rewrite it on his own terms. Finally, the repetition, while not the point of the exercise, clearly helps.