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The benefit of pretesting

Imagine taking a new course and being given a test at the beginning of the first class. Chances are you’ll get most of those answers wrong. But for one AU professor, that’s exactly what she wants.

Dr. Faria Sana recently received funding for the project, Examining the Specificity of the Pretesting Effect through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant.

The effect of pretesting

The pretesting effect focuses on the notion that pretesting is more beneficial to learning than not pretesting. By taking a pretest, you’re more likely to remember the concepts at later time. Sana has noted that there are dramatic effects to student learning through pretesting, in some cases, students who pretest performed almost 11 per cent better on a final exam than those who did not pretest.

For the next two years, with this funding, Sana aims to look at when pretesting is effective, why it’s effective, and for whom is it effective with the ultimate goal to see how it promotes broader learning benefits.

Education is so entrenched with various strategies to learn better—but Sana has found that there is usually very little science to back up some of the claims. For example, there’s the idea that you need to read and re-read information in order to learn something, but research has shown that is not the case. For Sana, learning is not intuitive but rather counter-intuitive and that there needs to be more research on learning to create strategies that are researched and bring those to the classroom.

The interleaving effect

In combination with the pretesting effect, Sana has also been researching the interleaving effect. Currently, most learning is done in blocks, in which students learn the concept, review the basics, complete practice exercises, reach an acceptable level of mastery, and then move to the next concept. In interleaved practice, the student would practice multiple concepts within a single session. Based on her findings and other evidence-based research, by combining both interleaved practice with the pretesting effect could promote better learning.

Both of these research-based strategies act as tools for either the student or teacher to use in their toolbox that promote learning, boost study habits, and create better teaching habits.

With these grants from SSHRC, Sana hopes to take her research-backed strategies to the classroom.

Published:
  • November 5, 2020