Now Sponsored By AccuTrack and NCLCA
Dedicated to providing information for learning assistance professionals.
SELF-TESTING CONCEPT: Discovering what has been learned before an exam is taken, not after.
By Dennis Congos, University of Central Florida
One of the most dangerous things college students can do academically is to go into a test thinking, feeling, assuming, or believing they have learned the material. This is dangerous academically because in all 4 of these cases students don't find out if they have learned the material or not until after a test is returned when little to nothing can be done about the test grade then. This is like waiting to discover if you can swim only after someone throws you into the deep end of the lake miles from shore. It would be better to discover swimming efficacy before one meets the water in the deep end. With learning, it is better for students to discover what they have learned and have not yet learned before they take a test when they still may choose to do something about it.
One way to identify what has and has not been learned before a test is taken is the employment of a self-testing strategy as students study.
One effective method of self-testing involves the use of notecards. To construct tests, instructors go through lecture and text material and want to know if students have learned selected details. For example, there may be 5 steps to a health economy in text or lecture notes that an instructor wonders if students have learned. What does the instructor do? S/he makes a question based on the details such as "What are the 5 characteristics of a healthy economy?" and places in on an exam. The student's job is to read test questions, recall answers from memory and record them on the test. Since humans tend to get better at that which they practice, it appears that practicing looking at questions and recalling answers from memory is no exception. Since that is the very activity at which students must be efficacious when taking a test, it would be wise to practice looking at questions and recall answers if students want to be better at doing this at test time.
Questions should be based on the nature of the details. Are the details presented in terms of steps, stages, phases, characteristics, how-to's, when, whys, definitions, arguments, pros and cons, outcomes, ramifications, application, etc? Once the nature of the details is determined and the number of the details to be learned is known, a test questions may be constructed.
The 5 steps from the example above may be listed separately on one side of a notecard. Since we know that these are 5 steps for a healthy economy, a possible test question may be constructed.
To begin, using notecards to organize notes makes self-testing easiest. Notecards are recommended because they are:
During a lecture, it's best to format note information using the Cornell System, outlines, or some other organized format. As soon as possible after lecture, details (which constitute answers keys for tests) should be listed on a notecard and questions then formulated on the other side of the notecard based on the nature of the details, while the lecture is still fresh. This is important because as time passes between lecture and rewriting notes, more and more is normally to be forgotten.
Quiz: What is the easiest way to study using a textbook?
Answer: Read it only once ever, take notes, and then learn from the notes.
Many students are under the mistaken assumption that they learn from textbooks and from lecture. In reality, the major purpose of lectures and textbooks is to provide the information to be learned. It is what is done with this information that results in learning.
Too often students try to learn test material for exams by reading. .... re reading ........ re reading.. ....... re reading.. ........ re reading. ....... This is very boring, ineffective, and places students in a position of doing one of those risky behaviors academically of going into a test thinking, feeling, assuming or believing the material has been learned. This places students in an out of control position because it does not allow students to discover what has and has not been learned until a test grade is returned when it is too late to do anything about it. Consequently, students utter statements of futility such as, "I thought I knew that," or "I know that. Why did I miss it?" or "I knew it but I could not remember!" If something is truly learned, it will be remembered. However, if a student's study system leads them only to a position of thinking, feeling, assuming or believing the material has been learned, the study system is defective.
The best time for students to discover what has and has not been learned is before a test is taken when something can still be done about it.
STEPS FOR SELF-TESTING
Take each set of details from lectures or assigned textbook chapters that could be on a test and use them as a guide to formulating a matching question. The kind of details is the clue to starting a possible exam question for a notecard. For example, if the details are "5 arguments against ," a possible test question could be "What are the 5 arguments against ..?" The same format works for phases, characteristics, stages, parts, elements, causes and effects, etc.
Why Do Step 1
Visibly separate answers from questions by placing questions on one side of a notecard and answers on the other. For notecards, use 1 question (main idea) and its answer (related details) per notecard.
Why Do Step 2
Recite. In this step, students read the question aloud, recite answers containing related details aloud from memory, as if lecturing a class. Some students may prefer writing answers from memory, as if taking an exam. Verbalizing or writing in complete sentences requires the kinds of thinking skills that move information into long term memory more quickly.
Why do step 3
It is important for learning and remembering to read questions aloud. When reciting aloud, students are using auditory skills which speeds learning. If students are writing the answers, they will be using visual skills in learning which also speeds assimilation of material to be learned and focuses concentration. The more senses that are utilized in learning the more effective is the learning and later recall.
Look at answers to check for completeness and accuracy.
Why Do Step 4
If ANSWERS are recited correctly from memory on the 1st try, that notecard should be placed in the "learned" pile.
Why Do Step 5
When ANSWERS are inaccurately recited, follow these 6 substeps.
Substep 1. Read an ANSWER aloud as if lecturing
a class and/or write it out until students think the material may be
recalled correctly and completely from memory.
Why Do Step 6
As long as answers are recited incorrectly on the first try each time students review, they must be considered "not yet learned."
Why Do Step 7
Review by reciting/writing answers as often as it takes until students can recall all answers correctly, by memory, on the 1st try the last time they self-test using the notecards.
Why Do Step 8
Watch out for Fading!
It is normal for fading (forgetting) to begin immediately after a human being hears or reads something. Therefore, it seems wise for success in college to interfere with the normal process of forgetting. That means the regular reviews of the notecards that have been learned is a good idea to combat the normal process of forgetting.
Students should reself-test over learned material 2-3 times per week or more to prevent something that is absolutely normal when material is not reviewed often enough: fading and eventually forgetting.
The number of reviews needed to earn "A's" varies. A few students can review 3 times and earn an "A" on a test while others must review 5, 9, or 12 or more times to earn an "A," depending on the subject matter.
Learning speed is individual and has no correlation with intelligence and this is normal. Learning speed does affect how many reviews each person must do to earn an "A".
How many reviews each student needs in order to earn an "A" is revealed when: 1) the number of reviews is identified that the student performed to prepare for the test or quiz and 2) the completeness and accuracy of the material on the notecards is determined in a posttest review. If grades are less than desired, students should verify if notes were complete and accurate and increase the number of reviews for the next exam.
Using this self-testing system properly, there will be only 3 reasons students will ever miss anything on an exam:
Develop An Individual Style
Students should feel free to develop an individual self testing style using the above basic fundamentals as a guide. Grades earned on tests and quizzes will provide feedback if further refinement is needed in self testing methods. The advice and guidance of a campus learning skills specialist is also helpful here.
Don't give up if desired results are not obtained on the 1st try. How
well did you do the first time you rode a bike without training wheels?
Persistence to refine self testing methods will eventually earn the
grades of which students are capable when this powerful technique for
learning is mastered.
Information :: Feedback
the Authors :: Subscription
Site Last Updated August 16, 2005.