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Study finds frequent tests help learning

By Stephanie Corns
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
October 13, 1999

An Ohio State University professor has reached a conclusion that many UA students might not like - more tests and quizzes leads to better performance in the classroom.

And, what could be worse for students is that UA professors agree.

Research done by OSU education professor Bruce Tuckman found that students who are regularly quizzed on class material outperform others by up to 24 percent on midterm and final exam scores.

"I always give lots of tests. It means they have to keep up with the material," Tuckman said. "I needed to motivate students to study, not teach them how to study."

Tuckman's research began four years ago when he was a professor at Florida State University. He continued the research until 1998.

There, he experimented with three educational psychology classes taught by the same instructor, using the same class materials.

One class was given weekly quizzes, a second class was assigned weekly homework, and the third class received neither.

Students in the first class scored seven percentage points higher on the midterm and final exam than the second class, and 24 percent higher than the third class, he said.

"I didn't expect the results to be so strong," Tuckman said. "I didn't expect such a difference. A whole letter grade is a real hard difference to produce."

He also found that students with an average below a "C" outperformed students with an average GPA by an entire letter grade.

"The reason they have low GPAs isn't because they're not smart, it's because they don't study," Tuckman said. "The way to get them to study is to test them frequently."

Numerous tests help students retain class material more than homework assignments because they must be able to recall information, rather than find an answer in a textbook, he said.

"People don't necessarily learn from home assignments," Tuckman said. "When you study for a test the only way you're going to know it is to get it into your head."

Some professors at the University of Arizona said they adhere to Tuckman's strategy.

"I believe in using frequent tests," said Darrell Sabers, educational psychology department head. "It works better than assignments. You can't just jam at the end of the month. It has to be day-by-day."

Christine Mikel, coordinator for academic services in the math department, said students perform better because they receive regular evaluations from instructors.

"I agree that frequent tests and feedback helps students to learn better," she said, adding that freshman math classes are given 10 computer quizzes, three tests, a final exam and graded homework. "It's awfully easy for students to let their studies go if they don't have something to focus on (like a test)."

Another professor follows a modified version of Tuckman's teaching philosophy.

Instead of weekly quizzes, Jerome D'Agostino, an assistant educational psychology professor, tracks student progress with assignments as well.

"It's not necessarily frequent testing, but frequent monitoring," he said. "It forces you to study and keep up with reading assignments."

D'Agostino also said the technique helps professors teach more effectively.

By identifying students' problem areas, professors can see where they did not present information clearly, he said.

While some students agreed that more tests over the semester would be beneficial, they were hopeful that their professors would not employ Tuckman's findings.

"It's more pressure (to study for quizzes)," said Lisha Ribellia, an undeclared freshman. "I'd rather do homework."

But another student thought the tests would help students by dividing class material into smaller portions.

"The more tests, the more it breaks up the information," said Richie Tang, a media arts and journalism junior. "I would like more tests because it would be less information to learn at once."

Another student thought it could increase class attendance.

"In large lecture classes I think more tests would be better because it would force students to go to class more," said Andrew Jaw, a material science and engineering junior.

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