Advances in Health Sciences Education

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 305–320

The benefits of testing for learning on later performance

  • Meghan M. McConnell
  • Christina St-Onge
  • Meredith E. Young

DOI: 10.1007/s10459-014-9529-1

Cite this article as:
McConnell, M.M., St-Onge, C. & Young, M.E. Adv in Health Sci Educ (2015) 20: 305. doi:10.1007/s10459-014-9529-1


Testing has been shown to enhance retention of learned information beyond simple studying, a phenomena known as test-enhanced learning (TEL). Research has shown that TEL effects are greater for tests that require the production of responses [e.g., short-answer questions (SAQs)] relative to tests that require the recognition of correct answers [e.g., multiple-choice questions (MCQs)]. High stakes licensure examinations have recently differentiated MCQs that require the application of clinical knowledge (context-rich MCQs) from MCQs that rely on the recognition of “facts” (context-free MCQs). The present study investigated the influence of different types of educational activities (including studying, SAQs, context-rich MCQs and context-free MCQs) on later performance on a mock licensure examination. Fourth-year medical students (n = 224) from four Quebec universities completed four educational activities: one reading-based activity and three quiz-based activities (SAQs, context-rich MCQs, and context-free MCQs). We assessed the influence of the type of educational activity on students’ subsequent performance in a mock licensure examination, which consisted of two types of context-rich MCQs: (1) verbatim replications of previous items and (2) items that tested the same learning objective but were new. Mean accuracy scores on the mock licensure exam were higher when intervening educational activities contained either context-rich MCQs (Mean z-score = 0.40) or SAQs (M = 0.39) compared to context-free MCQs (M = −0.38) or study only items (M = −0.42; all p < 0.001). Higher mean scores were only present for verbatim items (p < 0.001). The benefit of testing was observed when intervening educational activities required either the generation of a response (SAQs) or the application of knowledge (context-rich MCQs); however, this effect was only observed for verbatim test items. These data provide evidence that context-rich MCQs and SAQs enhance learning through testing compared to context-free MCQs or studying alone. The extent to which these findings generalize beyond verbatim questions remains to be seen.


AssessmentLearningMedical educationQuestion formatTesting effectTest-enhanced learning

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Meghan M. McConnell
    • 1
  • Christina St-Onge
    • 2
  • Meredith E. Young
    • 3
  1. 1.Program for Educational Research and Development, Faculty of Clinical Epidemiology and BiostatisticsMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Medicine and Centre de pédagogie des sciences de la santé, Faculty of Medicine and Health SciencesUniversité de SherbrookeSherbrookeCanada
  3. 3.Centre for Medical Education and Department of MedicineMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada