The pedagogical value of testing: how far does it extend?


Information is generally more memorable after it is studied and tested than when it is only studied. One must be cautious to use this phenomenon strategically, however, due to uncertainty about whether testing improves memorability for only tested material, facilitates learning of related non-tested content, or inhibits memory of non-tested material. 52 second-year Pharmacy students were asked to study therapeutic aspects of gastroesophageal reflux disease and peptic ulcer disease. One group was given 30 min to study. Another was given 20 min to study and 10 min to complete a 10-item test. Two weeks later a 40-item test was delivered to both groups that contained (a) the 10 learning phase questions, (b) 10 new questions drawn from the studied material, (c) 10 new questions about therapeutics in different disease states, and (d) 10 new questions drawn from more general pharmaceutical knowledge (e.g., basic physiology and drug characteristics). Moderate to large retrieval-enhanced learning effects were observed for both questions about material that was tested (22.9% difference in scores, p < 0.05, d = 0.60) and questions about material that was studied without being tested (18.9% difference, p < 0.05, d = 0.75). Such effects were not observed for questions that were not part of the study material: therapeutic questions that addressed different disease states (1.8% difference, p > 0.7, d = 0.08) or generic pharmaceutical questions (7.4% difference, p > 0.2, d = 0.32). Being tested made it more likely that students would report reviewing the material after the initial learning session, but such reports were not associated with better test performance. The benefit of mentally retrieving information from studied material appears to facilitate the retrieval of information that was studied without being tested. Such generalization of the benefit of testing can increase the flexibility of test-based pedagogic interventions.

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The authors wish to thank Lucy Chan for her assistance with data collection and Dr. David Fielding for his contributions towards enabling this project to be completed.

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Correspondence to Kevin W. Eva.

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This study was approved by the Behavioural Research Ethics Board of University of British Columbia.

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The abstract of an earlier version of this article was presented at the Centre for Health Education Scholarship’s Celebration of Scholarship, University of British Columbia.

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Eva, K.W., Brady, C., Pearson, M. et al. The pedagogical value of testing: how far does it extend?. Adv in Health Sci Educ 23, 803–816 (2018).

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  • Assessment-for-learning
  • Test-enhanced learning
  • Retrieval-enhanced learning
  • Retrieval-induced facilitation