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Testing is a learning measurement strategy used to quantify what has been learned (or supposed to have been learned) throughout the course of a specific period of time. One of the initial means of measuring testing on curricular retention was conducted in 1917 by Gates, then expanded in 1992 by Carrier and Pashler, referred to as the “testing effect”. The testing effect is the finding that long-term memory is increased when some of the learning period is devoted to retrieving the ‘to-be-remembered’ information through testing. It is useful for people to test their knowledge of the ‘to-be-remembered’ material during the studying process, instead of solely studying or reading the material. The testing effect provides the largest benefit to long-term memory when the tested material is difficult enough to require effort, the retrieval success is high, and feedback with correct answers is given after testing [1].

Even though the Gates and the Carrier & Pashler studies did not reveal a very large advantage of testing over studying, it did pave the way for numerous further studies that have shown a more marked advantage [4]. Specifically, Roediger & Karpicke 2006 research of the testing effect, Test-Enhanced Learning, showed testing produced substantially greater retention than studying, even though repeated studying increased students’ confidence in their ability to remember the material. Testing is a powerful means of improving learning, not just assessing the learning [2].

Despite the effectiveness of these learning measurement strategies, the testing effect has been rebranded in many cases to the less scary or more fun-sounding “quizzing”. Now, we’ve come up with more and more subtle ways to collect this data without students realizing that they are being tested, much like Mary Poppins’ ‘spoonfull of sugar’, but in the end, it’s all testing.

There’s no doubt that challenging, high-stakes tests can provoke anxiety in some students, parents, teachers, administrators… you name it. The negative views of testing repeated by so many are feeding into this anxiety. Tests are an aspect of education and of life that kids tend not to like even though it’s good for them [3]. Our job as parents, teachers, administrators, etc. is to realize that the benefits of testing outweigh the inconvenience of dealing with the complaints they so often produce. The solution to this problem is not to get rid of testing, but to embrace it, work to help students understand their purpose and try to redirect some of that anxiety. This approach will help to make students feel more confident in order perform in a manner that genuinely represents what they have learned.

[1] E. Bruce Goldstein. Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research and Everyday Experience. Cengage Learning. p. 231. ISBN 978-1-133-00912-2.
[2] Henry L. Roediger, III, and Jeffrey D. Karpicke, Test-Enhanced Learning Taking Memory Tests Improves Long-Term Retention, Association for Psychological Science, 2006
[3] YANA WEINSTEIN AND MEGAN SMITH, Standardized testing is not the enemy, Boston Globe, February 23, 2016
[4] Gates, A. I. (1917). “Recitation as a factor in memorizing”. Archives of Psychology 6(40).