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Pretesting Enhances Learning in the Classroom

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The current study examined whether the learning benefits of pretesting—like those produced by posttesting—generalize to classroom settings, and whether such benefits transfer to non-pretested related information. Before some lectures but not others, undergraduate students enrolled in a large research methods class were given a brief competitive multiple-choice pretest on topics that were then covered in a lecture occurring immediately following the pretest. The pretests were not seen by the lecturer. On a final exam that was given at the end of the academic term, it was found that pretesting enhanced learning of both pretested and non-pretested related material compared to control questions. On a follow-up questionnaire, students reported taking the pretests seriously and being generally aware when pretested topics were later discussed in the lectures. Furthermore, many students reported using the pretests to guide their own study behavior. Thus, a combination of two mechanisms—namely, increased attentional processing during class and enhanced self-regulated study outside of class—may have contributed to the current pretesting effect. Although much more research in this area is needed, our results suggest that students’ learning can profit from short, low-stakes, competitive multiple-choice pretests being deployed in the classroom.

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  1. An effort was made to construct pairs of questions that were not related, at least in any obvious way, to the other pairs. Admittedly, however, all the topics covered in the course were related to research methods used in psychological research.

  2. Two questions—one Identical and one Related—were deemed too easy (they were answered correctly over 85% of the time) and were, therefore, excluded from all reported analyses.


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We thank members of CogFog for insightful comments regarding this research.


Grant 29192G from the James S. McDonnell Foundation supported this research.

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Correspondence to Nicholas C. Soderstrom.

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Ethics Approval

This study was approval by the Institutional Review Board at the University of California, Los Angeles. The procedures used in this study adhere to the tenets of the Declaration of Helsinki.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in this study.

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The authors have no competing interests to declare.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Test-Enhanced Learning and Testing in Education: Contemporary Perspectives and Insights

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Soderstrom, N.C., Bjork, E.L. Pretesting Enhances Learning in the Classroom. Educ Psychol Rev 35, 88 (2023).

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