Practice tests enhance learning.  “Pretesting involves taking tests before to-be-learned information is studied, whereas post-testing involves taking tests after information is studied.”  What are the benefits of each?  Should instructors test students before they are taught new concepts, or is testing after the information more beneficial?

Pretesting, in which students are required to submit answers to questions before the underlying material is covered in class, is one approach to encourage productive study strategies.”  Positive results of pretesting material before learning effect have  been demonstrated.  “Taking a test before being exposed to learning content enhances retention compared with no retrieval practice.”  

 Pretesting can provide teachers an idea of the proficiency level of the students. But pretesting also benefits students because the “error generation” that occurs provides the opportunity to learn from errors.  “Error tolerance encourages students’ active, exploratory, generative engagement. . . . it may even encourage students to correct the errors while they are in low-stakes learning situations rather than to assiduously avoid errors at all costs.”  In fact, students can engage in pretesting themselves by posing questions about new material that cause them to think about what they want to learn.  This is a part of a well-known study skills strategy.  

Testing after instruction provides the ‘testing effect, widely referred to now as ‘retrieval practice.”  A test can make the memory more secure and less likely to be forgotten. Post-testing increases learning and retention. It involves retrieval, which supports long term memory, an integral part of active learning. In fact, testing information improves later recall more than additional study.  However,  that advantage occurred only after a two-day or one-week delay – “If recall was assessed after just a few minutes, the study-only conditions were better. This is important as it suggests that testing helped retention in long-term memory.”

So each of these testing situations provides benefits for the students. “Both types of tests improve memory for tested information and sometimes also improve memory for untested information. Thus, post-testing is not the only viable form of practice testing; both methods can be beneficial for learning.” Using both testing methods can be a useful learning strategy.  

Laura Maniglia