Recent cognitive psychology research shows strongly that quizzes help retain learning. What does this mean for computer-assisted assessment?

John Kleeman


Recent research in cognitive psychology has deepened understanding of the positive effect of retrieval practice on retention of learning. Studies clearly show that practising retrieval, including taking formative quizzes and tests, is an efficient way of retaining learning for the long term, more efficient than spending the same time restudying. Quizzes and tests do not just measure learning: the very act of taking them gives recall practice and strengthens retention of what has been learned.
This paper is a position paper that draws on new results from elsewhere rather than producing new data itself. The paper introduces research on the retrieval effect, its findings and then considers what the findings mean for the application of computer-assisted assessment in higher education and corporate training. The paper suggests that the logical consequences of the psychological research are that it would be efficient to give learners more opportunities for retrieval practice and that computer-assisted formative assessments are a good route for doing this.
Implications for design of formative computer-assisted assessment are given, including use where possible of more short-answer or fill-in-blank questions and use of feedback showing the correct answer. Advice for organizations is also considered, including enabling easy access to quiz authoring software for instructors.
The paper considers various likely objections to the principles proposed and gives some counter-arguments. It also suggests some further directions for research into how computer-assisted assessment could take more advantage of findings in retrieval practice.

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