The Pre-Testing EffecT


The Benefits of Pre-testing

Another focus of Learning Lab research is the under appreciated, well-replicated finding that tests do not simply act as measurement tools, but also prompt learning in their own right.

Our research uses classroom relevant materials to show that even failing a test or taking a test before learning new information, can lead to stronger memory for that information than spending the same amount of time studying. This table illustrates the increased posttest performance of students who were tested on material they did not previously know, allowed to study, and then tested on the same items again when compared to those students who had only study time and no pre test. (See Richland, Kornell and Kao (2009) for details on experiments and attention controls)

This finding has important implications for the way we think about testing in schools. It indicates that failure to answer test questions correctly shouldn’t be equated with failure to learn. Even pre-testing or incorrect test answers can improve learning, as long as they are followed by related instruction or feedback.

Recent Studies:

Current lab projects investigate the relationship between stress, study techniques, and individual motivational differences that effect a student’s ability to learn from test-taking. Our research seeks to understand the cognitive mechanisms that underly the benefits of testing. Preliminary findings show that students with maladaptive motivation orientations experience more stress when studying for and taking tests than do students with healthier motivation orientations. Further analysis is underway to explore the interaction between stress, memory consolidation, and learning from tests. 


Richland, L.E., Kornell, N., & Kao, S.L. (2009). The pretesting effect: Do unsuccessful retrieval

    attempts enhance learning? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 15(3), 243-257. [PDF]

                            For review, please see Scientific American

Research Funded By :

The Office of Naval Research