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The New York Times Kind of Misinterprets a Study About Tests and Learning

A new study claims testing helps kids get smarter—except, the tests that make a difference aren't the ones you think.

Didn't you just hate that one high school teacher who always seemed to give pop quizzes? Well, according to a piece in yesterday's New York Times, that teacher might have helped you get smarter.

The article, "To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test" cites a study just published in the journal Science, that found that if a student reads a passage and then immediately takes a test requiring them to recall what they read, a full week later they'll still remember 50 percent of the information.

Researchers put this method of learning against another approach popular with legions of procrastinating students—cramming—and yet another method popular with teachers—having students create elaborate concept maps.

It's no surprise that cramming for tests and quizzes doesn't pan out as a viable approach to long term information retention—that's why I got an A in AP Physics and still can't define torque.

Teachers are no fans of cramming, but they love concept mapping. In theory, enabling students to draw out connections between ideas should help them to more easily recall information. This study says that's not the case.

I know quite a few educators who are probably stabbing themselves in the eyeballs after reading that the countless concept maps they've had students create over the years might not lead to student achievement.

But, before the multiple choice, standardized testing crowd starts thumping their chests, it's important to note the kind of test the researchers administered. After reading the passage, students "wrote what they remembered in a free-form essay for 10 minutes. Then they reread the passage and took another retrieval practice test."

So, to decipher the wonkitude, the students read a passage, wrote a reflection essay, reread the passage a second time, and then wrote another reflection essay.That's a far cry from bubbling in the letter "C" on a scantron form.

Indeed, if schools want to follow this study's advice, reflection essays should become the Holy Grail of education reform. As one savvy Times commenter suggested, "The title of the article should be 'To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Write an Essay.'"

photo (cc) Flick user DrWurm

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