The Ultimate Block Party's Blog

Does testing help children learn?

Posted on: January 31, 2011

“But I hate tests!”  Most of us have probably said these words sometime during our childhoods or hear it today from our own children.  Tests have gotten a bad reputation lately – none of us want our child’s education to be about ‘teaching to the test.’ Education is about more than test scores! The issue with testing is that it typically only taps into content knowledge (reading, writing, and arithmetic, oh my!)—rather than other skills such as critical thinking or creativity. However, content knowledge IS important!  It is crucial for our children to learn about the facts of the world, learn how to comprehend paragraphs of facts, and retain that information in the future.

Recently, an article appeared in the New York Times that suggests testing actually helps us learn – in fact, more than just studying!  In a set of studies conducted at Purdue University (Kerpicke & Blunt, 2011), college students were asked to read a paragraph and then were asked to (a) study the information for 5 minutes, (b) draw a ‘concept map’ – or a visual ‘map’ of how the ideas presented fit together, or (c) take a test in which they had to write a short-answer description of everything they had just learned.  It turns out that the students asked to take a test retained up to 50% MORE information a week later!

What does this mean? If students are given the opportunity to make their own connections between facts and translate this information into their own words, it makes learning personally meaningful— and they are more likely to remember what they have learned later on! This is very different from re-reading material in order to memorize information or to identify key points (common in ‘cramming’ or study sessions). And remember—all tests are not created equal.  Do you think the researchers would have gotten different results if the students took multiple choice tests rather than short answer tests? Other researchers have shown taking multiple-choice tests repeatedly may actually promote false knowledge (the idea that they know the information when they do not! Roediger  & Marsh, 2005)!

What does this tell us? Asking open-ended questions that help students think critically and recall facts in ways that make sense to them can be a powerful tool for learning!

  • After your child studies or does her homework, ask her to close the book and either write down or tell you everything she remembers.  Make it a fun ‘memory game.’  In fact, you should take a turn ‘playing’ too!  This will help her to see the connections that exist between the facts and also give you the opportunity to learn together.
  • Try not to make testing all about grades and the number of items right or wrong – instead, frame tests as ways to learn!  If your child feels more positively about tests, he will likely be less anxious and his knowledge will be better able to shine!
  • Moderation is the key! Pushing children too much can have an adverse effect on learning and their motivation to learn—so be responsive to children’s needs, interests, and abilities!


Featured Articles:

Bellek, P. (2011, January). To really learn, quit studying and take a test. Retrieved from,

Karpicke, J. D., & Blunt, J. R. (2011, January). Retrieval practice produces more learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. Science. Retrieved from,

Roediger, H. & Marsh, E. (2005). The positive and negative consequences of multiple choice testing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 31, 1155-1159.


This blog was written by Dr. Kelly Fisher, Postdoctoral Fellow at Temple University, and Dr. Jennifer Zosh, Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania State University, Brandywine



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