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Boost exam scores with practice testing

Research has proven that distributed study over numerous sessions and timed practice testing is the best combination for exams prep.

As exam fever grips the country, children and parents anxiously search for ways and means to boost learning and knowledge retention for best results. Experts in the field of educational psychology are almost unanimous that distributed study and practice testing is more effective than last-minute cramming. In particular, practice tests improve information retrieval capability.

Dr. Katherine Rawson, associate professor of psychology at Kent State University, Ohio (USA), author of a 2016 research paper titled Enhancing Student Learning with Effective Study Strategies, strongly recommends practice testing. “Taking practice tests, particularly ones that involve attempting to recall something from memory can drastically increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to remember that information again later,” she says.

Also known as retrieval practice, practice testing is a discipline of actively exercising memory to retrieve information within ever shorter spans of time. It works by rewiring what is already learnt and improving memory by moving data from short term to long term memory.

Douglas Barton, founder and global chairman of UK-based Elevate Education, has spent the past 15 years benchmarking the exam prep practices of top-ranked students. In a TEDxYouth talk, he said: “We found that IQ is not the number one predictor of how well a student will perform. In fact we found 13 variables that are more effective in terms of predicting academic performance than IQ. And one factor in particular we found to be multiple times more effective to predict academic performance, is practice exams. We found top students do more practice exams than others. You can almost perfectly predict a student’s results by looking at the number of practice exams she has done.”

That’s why an increasing number of tutorials and online coaching providers are introducing practice testing in forms such as mock test papers, timed tests, etc. Moreover progressive high schools are also moving towards continuous year-round assessment of learning outcomes.

Practice testing basics

Dr. Rawson’s research indicates that practice testing enables learners to develop keywords to connect and recall information.

For instance, let’s say you want to learn the German translation of the English word ‘lady’, which is ‘frau’. You also have a page of important German phrases to learn.

• The first step is exposure — getting introduced to the word association: lady = frau.

• The second step is to remember by using mnemonics or images.

• Third, try a quiz or a multiple-choice question paper on this subject after 24 hours.

Practice testing at home

• Create a question paper in the form of multiple-choice questions.

• Source CBSE/NCERT mock test papers from the Internet.

• Create flash cards with questions for each topic, and work on recollecting learnt information a number of times.

• Note down questions as you learn, and use a timed method to recollect the answers. Try to answer after 24 hours.

Jayalakshmi Vaidhyanathan

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