In this article, you will learn about the importance of taking tests as a part of your learning and study sessions even if they are self-administered. You will also learn how to prepare for formal tests and examinations.
Pause and Think: “Why do so many students dread tests and exams?”
Why Tests Help You Learn Better
Tests and examinations have a bad reputation in education circles these days. Perhaps, this is because they seem to put students under unnecessary pressure and crowd out other educational priorities. However, as we’ve seen in this series, the fact is that when we use tests properly, they serve as an important tool which we can use to not just measure learning, but to enhance it.
When you are tested on what you’re learning, you are required to retrieve knowledge from memory. In other words, tests help you strengthen neural pathways and consolidate memories associated with what you’re learning.
In fact, a leading researcher in this field, Henry L. Roediger III of Washington University in St. Louis argues that tests of varying scale and intensity can deepen learning. According to him, “we now know that testing, including self-testing is an especially powerful form of study.” Why is that? Because retrieving facts, formulas or concepts is a threefold mental act. It involves finding the sought-after information in the vast catacombs of the brain; bringing it consciously to mind; and finally, storing it.
The newly stored memory will be embedded in a host of additional associations and connections. And it will be much easier to recall later than if you had merely read it again.
Prepare for your formal tests by taking self-administered tests
Testing has so many dimensions and comes in different forms that it can often be easily disguised. For instance, people will very easily agree that a formal examination written at the end of a term or semester is a form of test. On the other hand, few people will agree that actively participating in a group discussion, while contributing ideas and asking questions is also a form of test. But, it is indeed a very helpful test of your learning. In fact, something as simple as studying and trying to recall what you’ve previously learnt so far is also a form of test.
Any activity that forces you to actively recall or try to remember what you’ve previously learnt is a test. And testing is itself an extraordinary powerful learning experience. As a matter of fact, the effort you put into test-taking, including the preliminary mini-test of active recall is of fundamental importance in learning.
Try comparing how much you learn by spending one hour studying or reading versus one hour taking a test on the same material. You’ll discover that you’ve retained and learnt far more as a result of the hour you spent taking a test.
Testing seems to be a wonderful way to concentrate the mind. For this reason, it should be a natural part of your learning. The more tests you subject yourself to as you learn, the more natural and easy a formal end-of-semester examination will feel.
According to Benedict Carey in his New York Times post, “The brain is an exotic learning machine, to put it mildly. It does not take orders well.” Your brain hardly listens to what you tell it to do. But, you can be sure that it watches what you do. In other words, you can’t just command or force your brain to store information. However, thinking often about something, and perhaps even talking often about that thing convinces your brain of the value of that thing, idea, person or whatever else it may be.
Testing in all its different forms and varying degrees convinces the brain that the knowledge is useful and important. And if you engage yourself in self-testing as a part of your learning process while varying your testing strategies, the actual final examination—the so-dreaded formal assessment—won’t be so scary after all.
What do you think about the ideas shared in this article about test-taking and preparing for formal tests? What difficulties have you had in the past when preparing for your formal tests and examinations? And how can you incorporate test-taking into your learning and get better at it? Share your thoughts below.