Taking a test is not just a passive mechanism for assessing how much people know, according to new research. It actually helps people learn, and it works better than a number of other studying techniques.What helped most with retention of material was writing essay tests--"retrieval" exams that tested the amount of information students were able to recall when they wrote about the subject.
The research, published online Thursday in the journal Science, found that students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods.
One of those methods — repeatedly studying the material — is familiar to legions of students who cram before exams. The other — having students draw detailed diagrams documenting what they are learning — is prized by many teachers because it forces students to make connections among facts.
These other methods not only are popular, the researchers reported; they also seem to give students the illusion that they know material better than they do.
The researchers speculate that this effect occurs because the mind creates information storage systems as writing occurs, or something like that. The analogy that immediately sprang to mind for me was a medieval system of memory retrieval, although oddly enough the memory mapping techniques now taught in schools didn't result in better retention.
So now let me say that again, slowly:
Writing an essay about a subject helped students remember specific information.
Writing. Not shiny edu-gadgets beloved of administrators, although you all know I love gadgets.
Specific information. Not the touchy-feely "fluff" that budget-cutters apparently think the humanities teach.
Let's pair this information with the widely-reported study that Historiann posted about the other day, the one that's being reported in the news as "college students don't know nuthin' about nuthin'" but that, as she correctly notes, shows this:
Students who majored in the traditional liberal arts — including the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and mathematics — showed significantly greater gains over time than other students in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills.
Could someone beyond an obscure pseudonymous blogger put this 2 + 2 together, please, and let the legislators know about it?