No matter their age or if they work or go to college full time, people appear to learn more when tested on material, rather than simply rereading or restudying information, according to research published online in the American Psychological Association (APA) journal Psychology and Aging.
“The use of testing as a way to learn new information has been thoroughly examined in young students,” said the study’s lead author, Ashley Meyer, PhD, a cognitive psychologist with the Houston Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Center of Excellence. “This research builds on that and supports the notion that educators, or even employers, can use tests to increase learning in adults of all ages.”
In this experiment, adults of various ages improved their retention of new information just as much as college students if they were tested on the material and received feedback on their scores, rather than just restudying the materials, according to the article. The improvement was significant and comparable to the college students’ improvement, even though the college students performed better on the initial test.
"Working adults often need to gain new skills or knowledge as they advance through their careers,” said Meyer. "Our research suggests that testing may be one way to help them improve and move up."
She said that both groups benefited from the initial testing more than the additional studying. Meyer, who conducted the research with co-author Jessica Logan, PhD, at Rice University, added, “Taking the test and then being told how many answers they got wrong or correct was enough for these adults to improve their memory of the material as shown in a final, more difficult, test.”
Participants who took the final test on the same day as the study period did significantly better than participants who took it 2 days later, according to the article. However, older adults whose memories presumably are not as good as those of young college students still showed improved memory for previously tested material compared to restudied material, even after the 2-day delay.
Since all participants had some college education, the authors suggest that future research should look at adults with less formal education to see if this testing benefit is seen across educational backgrounds and age groups.