Pretesting effect

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The pretesting effect is a phenomenon where even failing to produce the correct answer or testing before learning a material improves test scores relative to regular studying (what is regular studying?).[1] This effect justifies generation, especially generation before learning a topic (meditation, inquiry-based learning, etc.).

What could be some mechanisms of this effect?

  • Attention direction: The learner might just be cued to pay attention to specific things later on as they go through the learning material. (called mathemagenic behaviors or "learning-generating" behaviors) "For example, Rothkopf and Bisbicos (1967) found that asking participants questions in which the answers were numbers led to better retention of all numerical information in the text, possibly because participants were able to direct their attention to the type of information that was important to learn given the test they would take." (p. 244)[2]
  • Deep processing of the questions (e.g. from memorizing the questions)
  • Supporting the organization of knowledge structures by guiding learning
  • Effects of testing itself: ???
    • Effects on learners' "intentional learning practices" (what, specifically?) (p. 248)[2]
    • "Two explanations for those results could include that (a) test questions may provide an organizational framework that indirectly affects retention by guiding future learning, and (b) allowing participants to read test questions may induce deep processing more effectively than does merely reading the passage." (p. 250)[2]

One weird detail about the Richland paper[2] is that it doesn't talk about what the "test and study" were subjects were thinking as they were studying, e.g. did they recognize that reading passages contained the answers to the questions they were asked?

See also


  1. "The Pre-Testing Effect". The University of Chicago Learning Lab. Retrieved November 6, 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Lindsey E. Richland; Nate Kornell; Liche Sean Kao. "The Pretesting Effect: Do Unsuccessful Retrieval Attempts Enhance Learning?" Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. 2009, Vol. 15, No. 3, 243–257.