Benjamin White

Teaching how to study: The Testing Effect

Blog Post created by Benjamin White on Aug 14, 2019

Learning Curve quizzes are a great tool to help students review material and prepare for classroom discussion, and they also provide us with metrics to indicate what students might be struggling with so we can better tailor our classroom time to meet the student’s needs. Students often ask “how can I better study for exams?” and sometimes ask for review sheets or some way to test their knowledge prior to the exam, so they can see what they know and what they do not. Showing student how to properly use Learning Curve quizzes to help them study for exams provides them with a critical tool for learning and developing metacognitive skills.


When it comes to studying, a lot of students’ report reading and re-reading the text, highlighting as they go, but these strategies have been demonstrated to be relatively inefficient in terms of learning (Dunlosky, et al, 2013). If we can direct them to utilize more high-impact practices, such as self-testing, we can encourage learning as well as promote the development of study skills that can benefit them over the course of their academic career and beyond. To help our students better learn material and prepare for exams, we can direct them back to the Learning Curve quizzes and explain to them how to use them as a study tool.


When students study material in the same way that they will be asked to recall it later on an exam or quiz, we find an increase in performance for that material, this is often referred to as the testing effect. When students prepare for a standardized exam, like the SAT or GRE, they are encouraged to take practice exams in order to assess what they know and identify areas where there is are gaps in their knowledge. Roediger and Karpicke’s (2006) investigation of the testing effect demonstrated that students who tested themselves on the material perform better than students who reviewed the material for the same amount of time despite the former group of students spending less time initially on the material than the students who simply re-studied. Roediger and Butler (2011) build on the testing effect and repeated retrieval, demonstrating that an expanding interval between retrieval attempts provides better retention. We can use these findings to benefit our students by explaining to them that learning science has informed us, through evidence-based research, that the best way to study is to do it in little bits, spread out over time, and repeated self-testing can be an efficient way to learn and practice material.


Explaining the testing effect to students and how to use Learning Curve quizzes more effectively has the potential to increase student grades and engagement with your course. These best practices give them better control over their success in your course. When we explain to students how to better use their study time, we can help them become better learners in all their courses.


Best practices:

  1. Let your students know that re-reading and highlighting may seem like they are working, but actually provide the least benefit to learning. Let them know that instead of taking more time to study, they use the time they already allocate to study more efficiently.
  2. Direct them to the Learning Curve quizzes as a way to test their knowledge and study for exams.
  3. Tell your students that if they get a question wrong, do not copy the question and correct answer to review later, instead write down the concept that the question was about, look it up and then write down (in their own words) their understanding of the concept. Inform them that this helps get the idea into your memory, copying the question and answer may feel like work, but is not helping you understand.
  4. Encourage your students to study often, in small blocks of time. Very few students I’ve spoken to enjoy cramming for 8 hours the night before an exam. Let your students know that they should study in the same way personal trainers will tell you to work out, in small blocks of time and with concentrated effort.
  5. Tell your students about the testing effect (there are many you-tube videos you can show in class or put on your LMS) and how it works. Encourage them to prepare for exams by reviewing Learning Curve quizzes and taking notes.




Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions from Cognitive and Educational Psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4–58. doi:10.1177/1529100612453266


Roediger, H. L.; Butler, A. C. (2011). "The critical role of retrieval practice in long-term retention". Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 15 (1): 20–27. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2010.09.003


Roediger, H. L.; Karpicke, J. D. (2006). "Test-Enhanced Learning: Taking Memory Tests Improves Long-Term Retention". Psychological Science. 17 (3): 249–255. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01693




Benjamin has been teaching psychology courses at Blinn College, a two-tear open enrollment community college located in Bryan, Texas, for the past 10 years.  Benjamin integrates a host of student success components into his course to help his students with college skills, such as studying, time management, and presentation skills. In addition to teaching, he is the Faculty Fellow for the Center for Teaching and Learning at Blinn College, and provides instructors of all disciplines with several workshops a##nd presentations each semester. He presents on a wide variety of topics concerning andragogy, teaching methods, and student success with a goal to provide faculty with different perspectives and methodologies to promote success for themselves and their students inside and outside of the classroom.