“Ferdinand, I spend hours and hours studying for my tests and the day of the exam I barely remember what I studied; what’s wrong with me?. This is a very typical statement that I frequently hear in my office. The answer to this problem can be different for each student, but I’ve noticed a common denominator. In most cases students spend the majority of those study hours in memory activities and very little time practicing how to retrieve information, or in a simple term, self-testing.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Karpickey, researcher at the Center for Cognition and Learning Lab at Purdue University, students should spend more time practicing retrieval techniques:
“We continue to show that practicing retrieval, or testing yourself, is a powerful, robust tool for learning. Our new research shows that practicing retrieval is an even more effective strategy than engaging in elaborative studying.”
You need to review your class notes regularly and read your textbooks if you want to perform good on your exams. But those activities alone might not be enough to achieve the highest grade possible. Reviewing notes and reading books become powerful learning tools when combined with self-testing on a regular basis (not just a few hours before your exams).
“Educators, researchers and students are often focused on getting things ‘in memory,’ so techniques that encourage students to elaborate on the material are often popular. But learning is fundamentally about retrieving, and our research shows that practicing retrieval while you study is crucial to learning. Self-testing enriches and improves the learning process, and there needs to be more focus on using retrieval as a learning strategy.”
Self-testing is possible by focusing on questions that you create from your readings and your notes. Testing sessions could also be implemented by studying with a partner or in a study group. In future articles we will discussed additional testing techniques.