You Have a Test. Have You Studied? Good. Are You Confident? Not So Fast.

Last week we showed the results of a survey that provided evidence that learners overwhelmingly choose to study for an exam by re-reading the course material, to the exclusion of other more effective study methods. But what about confidence? Who is more confident: learners who restudy or learners who take practice tests?  And how does this confidence translate into test results?

In this research study:

Test enhanced learning

the authors provided study material and divided the learners into three groups:

  • Group A studied the material four times, with a two minute delay between study sessions.
  • Group B studied the material three times (with a two minute delay) followed by one open-response practice test after a two minute delay. No feedback was given after the practice test.
  • Group C had one study session followed by three open-response practice tests, with two minute delays. No feedback was given after any of the practice tests.

The “practice tests” consisted of learners writing down how much they remembered from the study material.

Tests of recall were given at 5 minutes and after one week.

After the study sessions and the practice tests, the learners were asked how well they expected to do on the one-week test of recall. On a scale of one to five here is how the three groups responded:

Predicted Recall

S = Study Session

R = Retrieval Practice Session

So, the learners who had the opportunity to study extra times felt much more confident than those who studied but “practiced” once or more.

And here are the actual results for the one-week delayed test:

Actual recall

The conclusions are obvious: Restudying not only does not improve long term learning as much as practicing, but it provides a false sense of confidence. A terrible combination. And, if you have been following our blog, you know that this combination has a name: The Dunning-Kruger Effect.


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