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How tests and wrong answers help us remember what we learn

https://theconversation.com/how-tests-and-wrong-answers-help-us-remember-what-we-learn-33437

theconversation.com

How tests and wrong answers help us remember what we learn
Teachers give tests to find out what their students know. But tests do a lot more than that and can have a powerful effect on what a student remembers. In a typical research study looking at the links…

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Tests help us remember better

Tests help us remember better

Tests can have a powerful effect on what a student remembers.

What happens if you get an answer wrong? Common sense says if you practice making errors, you learn to make errors. But common sense also says we learn most from making mistakes.

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Conceptual testing

Previous research has shown that if you're young and healthy, mistakes enhance learning. But people with memory impairments, such as ageing, benefit most from error-free learning. New research challenges all of this. Researchers found that the types of clues make the difference.

If the test is conceptual (relating new learning to information we already know), young and older people remember more from a test they didn't get right. For example, asking to name a pastry, followed by feedback that "it was a tart", rather than just giving the answer without being tested on it. With non-conceptual information, errors will not help.

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Students need to be challenged

In reality, it's common to write down a wrong answer and not find out the correct answer for a while. Trying to find the correct answer afterwards lead people to remember more.

There is no evidence that it's good to make errors on purpose. Teachers need to ensure that the problems students face are challenging enough, so they are engaged in productive struggle. If they don't make mistakes, they may not be learning.

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We all make bad decisions

While we may not like to admit this, we all are making a lot of bad decisions, be it our personal lives, careers or in our jobs. Here is what research says about making good decisions:

The right information, not more

If there is too much information, we tend to make the wrong decision, and even if our decision is well-researched and considered right, we end up dissatisfied. 

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