Don’t wait for a test or exam to find out what you know and what you don’t. Test yourself!

Why test yourself?

Testing yourself can benefit your learning in many ways:

  • You will be able to check whether you can recall information, or just recognize it. We often feel confident that we know something when we have seen it many times, but this does not necessarily mean that we can recall or use the information effectively. You need to be able to recall the information to have really learned it.
  • Each time that you recall or use information, you consolidate your knowledge and it becomes easier and easier to recall.
  • It helps you set realistic goals and plan your studies effectively. With a clear idea of what you still need to learn, you can prioritize problem areas.
  • It is an effective way to develop self-confidence, and that will help you perform better in tests and other situations.
  • If your learning involves completing tasks, testing yourself by practicing those tasks consolidates your skills, and including variations of the task will enhance your ability to put your learning into practice in different situations.

Karpicke and Blunt1“Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping” (2011) found that activities that involve retrieving and reconstructing knowledge (such as self-testing) were more effective in promoting learning than were other more commonly used activities. This was the case even though students thought that they were learning less through self-testing.

How can you best test your learning?

There are a variety of ways you can test yourself:

  • Answer questions listed in your textbook.
  • Use flashcards to check your memory of the facts you have studied.
  • Teach someone else – can you clearly explain the topic to someone else who knows nothing about it? Trying to do so, and listening to feedback from the other person will help you identify areas where you need to improve your understanding.
  • When reviewing your notes, think of questions that might be asked. Put your notes aside and try to answer your questions.
  • Review the course outline or any other overview information you have been provided – it should list the areas that you need to know and describe the level of understanding expected. Use this information to create test questions. Then answer them.
  • Using past exam papers will give you a realistic understanding of the likely format, content, and complexity of the questions you will be asked.

No matter which methods you use, be sure to follow these guidelines:

  1. Match your self-testing to the testing you expect in your course, in terms of content and level.
  2. Use your memory – do your self-testing without referring to your notes or the textbook (or the answers!)
  3. Review your results – identify the areas where you need to improve and concentrate your future study efforts there.

Of course, self-testing involves a lot more mental effort than just re-reading your notes – but that is because it is much more effective!

What’s Next?