Practice makes proficient: teaching undergraduate students to understand published research

  • Trina C. Kershaw
  • Jordan P. Lippman
  • Jennifer M. B. Fugate
Original Research


Scientific knowledge, including the critical evaluation and comprehension of empirical articles, is a key skill valued by most undergraduate institutions for students within the sciences. Students often find it difficult to not only summarize empirical journal articles, but moreover to successfully grasp the quality and rigor of investigation behind the source. In this paper, we use instructional scaffolds (reading worksheets, RWs, with tutorials) to aid students in being able to comprehend, and ultimately transfer, the skills necessary in critically evaluating primary sources of research. We assess students’ learning of these skills on a multiple-choice assessment of Journal Article Comprehension (JAC). Students in experimental classes, who received instructional scaffolds, improved on the JAC post-test compared with students in control classes. This result shows that students are acquiring fundamental research skills such as understanding the components of research articles. We also showed that improvement on the JAC post-test for the experimental class extended to a written summary test. This result suggests that students in the experimental group are developing discipline-specific science process skills that allow them to apply JAC skills to a near-transfer task of writing a summary.


Reading empirical articles Instructional scaffolds Assessment Learning outcomes Cognitive psychology 



The authors thank Amy Shapiro and Scott Hinze for access to their cognitive psychology courses. We thank James Bradley for his assistance in creating the summary coding scheme. Judy Sims-Knight gave invaluable advice on several statistical issues, and Susan Goldman and Micki Chi provided important suggestions for best practices in establishing inter-rater reliability. We also thank several anonymous reviewers for their feedback. Preliminary results from the pilot studies were presented at the 15th Annual European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction conference (EARLI 2013, Munich, Germany) and the 4th Biennial Conference of the International Society for the Psychology of Science and Technology (ISPST, 2012, Pittsburgh, PA).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Trina C. Kershaw
    • 1
  • Jordan P. Lippman
    • 2
  • Jennifer M. B. Fugate
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Massachusetts DartmouthNorth DartmouthUSA
  2. 2.The TeamBuilders GroupPittsburghUSA

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