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Practice Tests Really Do Improve Learning: Study

Exams led people to develop more effective keyword memory cues, researchers find

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THURSDAY, Oct. 14, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Practice tests actually do help improve learning, a new study claims.

Kent State University researchers found practice tests more effective than studying at helping people develop effective mental cues or keywords to help them remember what they've learned.

"Taking practice tests -- particularly ones that involve attempting to recall something from memory -- can drastically increase the likelihood that you'll be able to remember that information again later," Katherine Rawson, an associate professor in the psychology department, said in a university news release.

She offered the following example:

"Suppose you were trying to learn foreign language vocabulary" in Swahili..."You could just repeat [a word] over and over to yourself each time you studied it, but it turns out that's not a particularly effective strategy for committing something to memory."

A more effective strategy, she said, is to develop a keyword that connects the foreign language word with the English word, such as "wingu -- cloud." "'Wingu' sounds like 'wing,' birds have wings and fly in the clouds. Of course, this works only as well as the keyword you come up with," Rawson added.

She and her colleagues found that practice tests led learners to develop better keywords. People came up with more effective mental hints or keywords, called mediators, when they were being tested than when they were only studying, the researchers discovered.

The study appears in the Oct. 15 issue of the journal Science.

More information

For more on learning and memory, visit the archives of the American Psychological Association.

SOURCE: Kent State University, news release, Oct. 14, 2010.


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