The proof is in the research: Taking a test is the best way to learn

February 21, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Posted in Kaplan IT Training news, Study hints, Vendor news | Leave a comment
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If you’re familiar with our blog and our product, then it should come as no surprise that when you ask us we always encourage you to take a practice test before taking your certification exam. Well now you don’t have to take our word for it! It seems the good folks at Purdue University have the research to prove it. In a study involving 200 college students, a group of Purdue University researchers found that taking a practice test before a subsequent exam trumped several other popular methods of learning—including repetition and concept mapping.

One of several experiments went something like this: Students were asked to read several paragraphs about a scientific topic. They were then divided into four groups.

  • The first group simply read the text for five minutes.
  • The second group read the text in four consecutive five-minute sessions.
  • The third group performed “concept mapping,” a process in which students drew detailed diagrams about information from the excerpt they were reading.
  • The fourth group read the passage once and took a “retrieval practice test,” which required them to write down what they recalled from the text.

A week later, all four groups took a quiz that asked them to recall facts from the passage they had read and draw conclusions based on those facts. Here’s where it gets really exciting…while the students in the fourth group anticipated lower scores on the quiz, they were actually able to recall 50% more compared to those who participated in the first three groups. This means, those who read and then took a practice test had higher exam scores a week later!

Surprised? Yeah, so was most of the education community. Although experts are not completely sure why retrieval testing is so effective, there are some theories. It could be that by recalling information, we are organizing it and creating meaningful connections that our brains later recognize. Another theory is that the effort involved in remembering information helps to solidify it in our minds. Meaning as we’re working through a practice test and identifying areas of weakness, we’re actually using the struggle to remember information as a retention source for later recall. This makes us feel a whole lot better about the forum chatter that says our Transcender practice tests are so much harder than the “real thing”.

If you want to check out the details of the Purdue study as well as more feedback on theories from “experts” the article can be found here, To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test. Whatever the reason behind their results, the Purdue study makes a very compelling case for using practice tests to prepare for your upcoming IT certification exam.

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