Beyond assessment: The testing effect and 10 benefits of testing

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Did you know that testing is not only a grading tool?

Although it is commonly used to assess students, testing can promote learning instead of just evaluating it.

Below, we will explain what the testing effect is, present the benefits of testing, and give some practical tips for your STEM lessons.

What is the testing effect?

The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines the testing effect as:

“the finding that taking a test on previously studied material leads to better retention than does restudying that material for an equivalent amount of time.”

Hundreds of psychological experiments reveal that people who take tests perform far better than the ones assigned to other conditions like just studying or not testing (Roediger & Karpicke, 2006; Wheeler & Roediger, 1992).

However, not all tests are equally effective. Short answer quizzes are more beneficial than other types like multiple-choice quizzes (McDaniel, Anderson, Derbish & Morrisette, 2007). The reason behind this might be that recall is more beneficial for long-term memory than recognition.

Student taking a math test on a laptop

Benefits and educational applications of testing

Following an illustrative chapter written by Roediger, Putnam & Smith (2011), here are 10 benefits of testing that go beyond grading.

1. The testing effect: Retrieval Aids Later Retention

Tests activate retrieval processes that facilitate learning. Thanks to testing, knowledge is more effectively fixed in long-term memory and will be retained better.

2. Testing Identifies Gaps in Knowledge

When taking a test, students can realize what they already know and where their blind spots are. It is a realistic way to self-evaluate. Testing guides the learners and enables them to focus more on what they need to improve.

3. Testing Causes Students to Learn More from the Next Study Episode

It has a positive impact on future learning sessions. After taking a test and studying the material again, the results are better than without the test.

Karpicke and Roediger (2007) recommend students test themselves several times when they are learning. They found out that repeated retrieval of information is important for long-term retention.

4. Testing Produces Better Organization of Knowledge

Taking tests can help with the conceptual organization of the content. This benefit especially takes place when the questions are open-ended. Letting the students be active is key to their learning process.

5. Testing Improves Transfer of Knowledge to New Contexts

Far from being only a requirement to pass a course, the knowledge students obtain from testing can be applied to other situations like new subjects or day-to-day activities.

Courses like math can often feel quite abstract and far removed from our realities. To make your tests more engaging, we recommend using real-world problems.

Student taking a math test on a laptop

6. Testing can Facilitate Retrieval of Material That was not Tested

Testing can also facilitate learning new nontested information related to the tested content. That is to say, taking a test on chapter one might help with chapter two.

7. Testing Improves Metacognitive Monitoring

If students self-test frequently, they can be more aware of which techniques work better for them, what the most effective study strategies are, how much time they need, etc. And they will be able to predict their outcomes more accurately too.

8. Testing Prevents Interference from Prior Material when Learning New Material

Sometimes, material learned previously interferes negatively with the retention of new information. This phenomenon is called proactive interference. It generally occurs when a series of topics are studied in succession.

However, testing between the study sequence prevents this effect (Szpunar, McDermott & Roediger, 2008). As we have seen in benefit number 6, this practice even improves the retention of new similar content!

9. Testing Provides Feedback to Instructors

Tests do not only benefit students but have a positive effect on teachers. They provide educators with data into the students’ understanding of the subject. The results offer insights to upgrade their future teaching.

10. Frequent Testing Encourages Students to Study

When students have frequent tests and discover the benefits from their own experience, they develop a positive attitude towards testing and feel more motivated to continue learning.

As we will see in the last section of this blog post, testing can be a fun and engaging experience.

Possible negative consequences of testing

Roediger et al. (2011) mention that testing raises criticisms too. One drawback would be that students could process the information presented in the tests superficially and just passively memorize encapsulated content.

The most relevant disadvantage is that students could acquire erroneous knowledge (e.g. if they study the wrong items from true/false or multiple-choice results). Luckily, giving specific feedback after the tests would solve both problems.

The testing effect has been solidly proved in experimental psychology and educational research. It’s certainly a helpful tool for both students and educators.

Student taking a math test on a laptop

How we can help you make the most of the testing effect and other testing benefits

Now we will get to practical recommendations to successfully integrate testing into your class with SOWISO.

We offer a large number of settings. You can create numerous different types of tests: diagnostic, formative, and summative.

You can also change the window of availability, the number of attempts, the minimum passing grade, whether or not the questions are presented in a random order, or assign a password to the test. Using these features, every student can benefit from the testing effect!

1. Test your students frequently

Testing frequently is a useful way to let students learn the content step by step (and make sure they don’t try to do everything at the last minute). Besides, this will enable you to identify who is struggling so you can give he/her/them extra support on time.

Although evaluating more assignments usually means increasing your workload, we take care of the most repetitive functions so you can focus on other tasks. Our platform grades the students automatically.

An effective strategy is creating a test containing 5 or more questions from the practice material and giving students one week and three attempts to score as high as they can. This will reduce the pressure they might feel and let them process the content more calmly and deeply.

2. Give feedback to your students

As we saw previously, specific feedback prevents the disadvantages of testing. Our digital environment processes the student’s input and attempts to identify mistakes. Then the student receives a tailored message immediately.

Moreover, many of your students might be experiencing math anxiety. Feedback can help them overcome it, as we detail in this blog post.

Automated personalized feedback in the SOWISO learning environment

Automated personalized feedback in the SOWISO learning environment

3. Use learning analytics

Tracking test results can be time-consuming. Integrating technology into your class can help you work smarter.

Our learning analytics enable you to score all of your students and quickly get a panoramic view of their progress.

We offer integral reporting over all facets of a class, with in-depth analyses per subsection. You can zoom in on different levels like subchapter, topic, or even individual exercise attempts. It can empower you to proactively detect red flags and improve the design of your course.

Learning analytics in the SOWISO learning environment

Learning analytics in the SOWISO learning environment

4. Randomize the values of the exercises

As you know, it can be tempting for students to cheat on their tests, and preventing it is not that easy. We generate a random set of values each time an exercise is loaded. Students can practice without limit and are less likely to copy.

5. Personalize the tests

Your students might have diverse levels and needs. Taking tailored tests can make them feel more understood and help them fulfill their potential. For example, with our tool, you can give extra time to students who are experiencing difficulties.

Good luck taking advantage of the testing effect and its multiple benefits! If you want to know more about SOWISO, drop us a line or check our homepage.


  • American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Testing effect.
  • Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger III, H. L. (2007). Repeated retrieval during learning is the key to long-term retention. Journal of Memory and Language, 57(2), 151-162.
  • McDaniel, M. A., Anderson, J. L., Derbish, M. H., & Morrisette, N. (2007). Testing the testing effect in the classroom. European journal of cognitive psychology, 19(4-5), 494-513.
  • Roediger III, H. L., & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychological science, 17(3), 249-255.
  • Roediger III, H. L., Putnam, A. L., & Smith, M. A. (2011). Ten benefits of testing and their applications to educational practice. Psychology of learning and motivation, 55, 1-36.
  • Szpunar, K. K., McDermott, K. B., & Roediger III, H. L. (2008). Testing during study insulates against the buildup of proactive interference. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34(6), 1392
  • Wheeler, M. A., & Roediger III, H. L. (1992). Disparate effects of repeated testing: Reconciling Ballard’s (1913) and Bartlett’s (1932) results. Psychological Science, 3(4), 240-246.

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