Sunday, March 26, 2006

When Testing is Useful

Future Pundit has an entry on a proper use of testing. Note that the testing here that actually aided memory retention was a private activity, not open to feedback by an outside assessor.

Anyone game on for writing appropriate e-books with privately managed testing facilities?


Anonymous said...

I think that, despite schools/universities not wanting to know this, we have known for a long time that testing is best used as an aide-memoire, and that grades are often not useful for the learner just for institutions and employers.

However, I'm not convinced by the type of conclusions the study came to. Such research would need to be repeated and possibly on a bigger scale. (We aren't given numbers.) It may be that the group who remembered fewer facts actually had 'better' thinking on the subject - this doesn't seem to have been considered.


Carlotta said...

Yes, I agree with the commentator at Future Pundit, who said that anecdote is not the plural of data! And indeed however many people took part, this type of thing would of course be pseudo-scientific, because the full explanation would not be transparent or falsifiable.

However, speculations about possible explanations seem viable to me, and it would seem to make sense that being alert enough to answer a question about something would mean that it is very likely that the fact would be more strongly retained.

Anonymous said...

Carlotta, that helps me clarify my thoughts!

I suppose I wasn't questioning the usefulness of speculation, I was questioning how much does it really matter that facts are retained for use in tests/examinations at a later date; and does this improved capacity really reflect anything useful, such as the ability to think and come up with creative solutions on the subject?


Carlotta said...

Yes, perhaps it is useful to make a distinction between simple factual assimilation and the assimilation of complex abstractions from facts. I don't think that the researchers necessarily excluded either type of learning from the study, so it is possible that both types of knowledge assimilation were, apparently at least, improved with testing...I dunno...

I like to think that sometimes learning complex ideas can usefully go in semi-consciously and that once one has recaptured that train of thought, the facts that come with it hook onto it somehow...but actually I cannot believe I'm saying this, given that my memory for facts is so bad atm!

Testing for simple facts may be a useful skill for me atm. For example, I often find myself explaining some idea to someone, but not being able to recall the source, which can be very frustrating.

Anonymous said...

Just came across this which, whilst I can entirely see your point of view, actually describes what I was trying to say extremely accurately!

Gauss, Karl Friedrich (1777-1855)
“It is not knowledge, but the act of learning, not possession but the act of getting there, which grants the greatest enjoyment. When I have clarified and exhausted a subject, then I turn away from it, in order to go into darkness again; the never-satisfied man is so strange if he has completed a structure, then it is not in order to dwell in it peacefully, but in order to begin another. I imagine the world conqueror must feel thus, who, after one kingdom is scarcely conquered, stretches out his arms for others.” – Letter to Bolyai, 1808

Leo said...

Is not really testing, it's routine exercising. I noticed I had too much of a laissez faire approach with my kid and learning regresses that way. Our brain is not designed to retain things actually. It needs repetion. Our memories are actually photocopies of memories. While we think about it we repeat the event in out brain.

Evaluation makes people cheat the system and cheat themselves. In my school we always had "self-evaluation". I wonder if it was also a fashion here. It wasn't quite a self-evaluation, as the kids were evaluating themselves taking the expectations of the teachers in consideration. I always played fake modesty and then got higher grades. The vices they teach us. LOL!