Exams: to properly revise, test yourself !


When we talk about examinations, controls or homework, we immediately think about grade notes, averages and admissions to training. But while tests are a convenient format for evaluating performance, their usefulness does not stop there. Research shows that these are particularly effective tools for learning.

Indeed, when one is tested, one must produce an effort of recovery in memory, that is to say one must actively search, in its memory, the information previously learned to reactivate it, to make it accessible and mobilizable.

Revisions as traditionally conceived often stop at the replay of a course or the writing of a sheet, that is to say, a more or less frequent exposure to the content to be learned. However, many studies have shown that it is precisely the effort of recovery, present in the test, not in the repetition, which improves the ability of individuals to remember the information later.

Recovery efforts in memory

Even though the test is a tool often unknown to students, its beneficial effects have been known to researchers for a long time. In 1992, a studyalready showed that students who had been more frequently tested on memorizing material (a series of 60 images) performed better one week later at a recall task than these images.

Thus, students who received three tests immediately after the presentation of the material remembered more items than those who had only one test, which recalled more items than those having not been tested at all. In addition, the effect of the test remains beneficial when the performance of students who have taken the test is compared to that of students who have been satisfied with conventional revisions.

In the same vein, research has shown that when revising, one asks the question “Will I be able to answer this question during the exam? “, A” learning judgment “is realized which involves making recovery efforts in memory to answer them.

Studies have shown that this “learning judgment” can be just as effective as the test, as long as the question is asked after a short delay , usually a few minutes of learning. In other words, it is the recovery effort in memory and not the repeated exposure to information to remember that facilitates learning.

In summary, testing oneself regularly is an undeniable direct benefit to learning, especially for long-term retention, as opposed to a repetition in the form of repetition, dense and condensed, without any test, such as “cramming”, of which the content is likely to be forgotten as soon as the exam is finished.

Beneficial errors

Contrary to what one might think, one does not retain information better when it is easy or simple to memorize. Whatever the degree of complexity of a message, producing an effort is necessary to foster quality learning over the long term, that is, beyond the day or even days or weeks afterwards. learning. So how can we make our revisions work?

Take the example of a course or a subject that we know will be subject to a knowledge check at the end of the semester or trimester, as is the case during exams university or undergraduate or patent exams.

  1. As teaching sequences unfold, we advise you to create, not revision sheets, but question sheets or “tests” that you can use during your next learning session.
  2. Then we advise you to do something else for a while (break, work on another subject …). Indeed, the delay is necessary for the information to be stored in “long-term memory”.
  3. Then, you will resume the questions created in Phase 1 and simply try to answer them by making a real recovery effort in memory.
  4. Finally, you can resume the course and answers to the questions to make a correction. This final step further extends the benefit of the test on learning.

This same process can be repeated for each lesson or lesson. To test oneself does not take more time than to make cards or to re-read one’s course. Yet it is a much more effective strategy!

In addition, the regular use of tests will have indirect benefits . For example, research has shown that the test allows students to adapt their learning strategies or subsequent revisions, for example by choosing to work preferentially with the least well-selected elements.

Finally, note that this use of the test consists in considering it as a real learning tool. Therefore, do not be afraid to make mistakes in the tests. Contrary to what we sometimes think, mistakes will contribute to learning.

Author Bios: Mathilde Lamotte is Doctor in cognitive and social psychology,Céline Darnon is a Professor of Social Psychology and Marie Izaute is Professor of Cognitive Psychology all at Clermont Auvergne University