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The Test Results Are In: Testing Works!

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Originally posted on December 11, 2014.

Even the most pleasant activities have low spots. I enjoy teaching as much as anything, but there are certain parts I like more than others. Course planning ranks as one of my least favorite parts of teaching. There are numerous questions that lack clear answers.

But as I built my online course shell today, I felt more confident than ever about how often I should test my students. Quite a bit.

In research conducted at the University of Texas-Austin, researchers gave students daily online quizzes that provided immediate, personalized feedback. At the end of the semester, the researchers compared the daily quizzed students’ grades with those who had previously taken a version of the course that did not include the daily quizzes. The result? Daily quizzes boosted class performance a half letter grade.

The daily quiz effect also spilled over into the students’ other classes. Even when the course material did not relate to their daily quizzes, students who were frequently tested continued to excel. That’s remarkable.

The most surprising part is how much students like frequent testing. Last year, I taught Introduction to Psychology while I was on sabbatical at Hope College. Knowing the benefits of frequent testing, I decided to give my students 22 quizzes throughout the semester. That’s about a quiz every class session.

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At the end of the semester, I asked students what parts of the course they would like to keep or discard. No student suggested getting rid of the quizzes. They said the quizzes kept them on track and gave them frequent feedback about how well they understood the material. Students also said that the frequent quizzes caused them to approach longer exams without much anxiety. S

So, as I spent today entering the many quizzes that my Introduction to Psychology students will take next semester, I know that frequent testing should help them earn the high grades they desire.

About the Author
C. Nathan DeWall is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Social Psychology Lab at the University of Kentucky. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from St. Olaf College, a Master’s Degree in Social Science from the University of Chicago, and a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Florida State University. DeWall received the 2011 College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award, which recognizes excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching. In 2011, the Association for Psychological Science identified DeWall as a “Rising Star” for “making significant contributions to the field of psychological science.”