How Can We Help Our Students Love Quizzing (Part 2)

How Can We Help Our Students Love Quizzing (Part 2)

By: Megan Smith & Yana Weinstein

As we discussed in Part 1, There are a few barriers to students using retrieval practice on their own. First, it’s hard. Putting yourself on the spot to recall as much as you can about a concept is really difficult, and may even be anxiety-provoking, even when the stakes are low. Who wants to put themselves into a situation that makes them realize they don’t know many of the answers? But this is exactly why students need to practice recall on their own. Better before the test, when they have time to review and try again, than on exam day!

And what’s more, there’s recent evidence to suggest that this kind of no-stakes testing can improve both final exam performance AND students’ attitudes towards quizzing. A recent classroom study (1) found that taking no-stakes quizzes (i.e., those that are not associated with any grade) led to more positive feelings about quizzes than not taking any quizzes or taking graded quizzes, and was also associated with better exam performance than the other two conditions.

Another barrier to consider is that students may simply not know that quizzing is better than re-reading. It’s easy enough for us to get caught up in the literature and assume that students and even teachers all “know” about the testing effect, but in fact it is more likely that students rely on their intuition when they choose study strategies. As we discussed previously, reading over and over boosts our confidence in our own learning because each time we re-read something, it reads more fluently even though we are not absorbing any more information. Practicing recall does not naturally do this – in fact, it can make us feel like we know less rather than more. A boost to confidence is not necessarily a bad thing… but it definitely does cause a problem when students are overconfident after engaging in an ineffective study strategy.

So should we throw in the towel? Accept that students generally don’t practice recall and stop expecting them to? In our opinion, definitely not. Instead, we should recognize that there may be some barriers associated with implementing more quizzes or tests into the classroom, and with asking students to self-test often on their own. While we definitely do not think quizzes and tests can be completely removed from the classrooms – standardized tests are a reality, and we would only be doing students a disservice by eliminating their opportunities to practice taking them – there are ways to encourage students to practice retrieval without taking a formal quiz or test.

Here’s one example of such a method: have students create concept maps from memory. The “from memory” part is critical, because research has shown that creating concept maps in and of themselves is not an inherently good study strategy.

In a recent experiment (2) college students read a passage and either recalled information from memory, or created concept maps while referring to their study materials. One week later, the students came back to the lab and completed two learning assessments: they answered short-answer questions where they had to remember the information from the passage and make inferences; and they created concept maps from memory.

The students who practiced recalling everything they knew from memory did better on both assessments than did those who made concept maps with their study materials. In other words, students who recalled everything they knew from memory were better at creating concept maps from memory than students who practiced making concept maps with the study materials in the first place! To us at least, this experiment really showcases how powerful recall can be as a learning strategy.

But this doesn’t mean concept maps can’t be useful. Later, the same researchers (3) added another learning group: creating a concept map from memory. In this experiment – replicating the previous one – when students made a concept map with the materials right in front of them, they did not learn as much as when they recalled information from memory. However, when they created a concept map from memory they learned just as much as when they practiced recall.

This research suggests something important: all students need to do is produce the information from memory. Clearly this can happen during a test or a quiz, but there are many creative ways teachers can ask their students to recall from memory, that feel less like a dreaded “test”. Having students create concept maps from memory is one way. Plus, if students need a little extra help successfully retrieving, teachers can give students partial maps and ask them to recall the relationships between concepts – creating effective memory scaffolds. Research has shown that this particular strategy can work well for 4th grade students (4), who have trouble recalling information from memory on their own.

Concept maps are not the only way for teachers to get creative in helping students recall information. For example, try asking students to draw from memory! Drawing from memory clearly involves retrieval practice, but may be less scary and more fun that taking a traditional test. Below is an image illustrating visual perception (how apt!) that I (Megan) helped a student create from memory during office hours:

A final possibility to consider is that students do want to practice retrieval, but they simply don’t know how to do it, or don’t have appropriate materials (e.g., practice quiz questions). We’re cautiously optimistic that our regular student-focused blog posts (such as this one on how to study a textbook and this one on how to study with flashcards) can begin to fill the void between overly academic write-ups of good study strategies that students don’t access, and “brain hacks” propagated by the media.

(1) Khanna, M. M. (2015). Ungraded pop quizzes: Test-enhanced learning without all the anxiety. Teaching of Psychology42(2), 174-178.

(2) Karpicke, J. D., & Blunt, J. R. (2011). Retrieval practice produces more learning than elaborative studying with concept maps. Science, 331, 772-775.

(3) Blunt, J. R., & Karpicke, J. D. (2014). Learning with retrieval-based concept mapping. Journal of Educational Psychology, 106, 849-858.

(4) Karpicke, J. D., Blunt, J. R., Smith, M. A., & Karpicke, S. S. (2014). Retrieval-based learning: The need for guided retrieval in elementary school children. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 3, 198-206.