Pretesting effect

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Revision as of 02:03, 13 November 2018 by Issa Rice (talk | contribs) (Mechanisms)
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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.).

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?


I think interest in pretesting came about because the testing effect was already known.

Pretesting may also have been called the generation effect in at least one paper.


What could be some mechanisms of this effect?

Mechanism name Description What the learner gets Example
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). a.k.a. "affecting learners' looking behaviors". (p. 250)[2] "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]
Supporting the organization of knowledge structures by guiding learning helping "as an organizational framework to better structure causal structure and knowledge interpretations" (I can barely make out what this even means..) (p. 250)[2] I think this is specifically meant to not be attention direction. So it's not that you're looking at the right places in the reading material; rather, somehow reading the questions cues up your "organizational framework" in some deeper way. seeing potential test questions before beginning to study
Deep processing of the questions seeing potential test questions before beginning to study e.g. from memorizing the questions
Active attempt to recall key information from memory attempting (albeit unsuccessfully) to answer test questions
  • 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]


A question I have about testing/pretesting effect is something like, assuming testing is useful, how much of your study time should be spent on testing? At one extreme there is something like the Moore method where basically everything is a pretest. At the other end, testing can be restricted to some minimal part of studying (e.g. some pretest questions, then reading through a bunch of material in a normal way, then doing a post-study test).

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 2.4 2.5 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.