Research in cognitive science and shows that , done right, can be an exceptionally effective way to learn. Taking tests, as well as engaging in well-designed activities before and after tests, can produce better recall of facts—and deeper and more complex understanding—than an without exams. But a testing regime that actively supports learning, in addition to simply assessing, would look very different from the way schools “do” testing today.

“Retrieval practice” does not use testing as a tool of . Rather it treats tests as occasions for learning, which makes sense only once we recognize that we have misunderstood the nature of testing. We think of tests as a kind of dipstick that we insert into a student’s head, an indicator that tells us how high the level of knowledge has risen in there—when in fact, every time a student calls up knowledge from memory, that memory changes. Its mental representation becomes stronger, more stable and more accessible.

 

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