BLOG PAGE: A View from the Bridge
By Mr. Clayton
By Mr. Clayton
The magical power of the pretest
So this week, since this is a school and I’m a trained teacher and teachers ask lots of questions, let’s start this week with a couple of questions :
Who wrote and had published one of the first medical text books in 1543, called The Fabric of the Human Body?
A Ambroise Pare
B Andreas Vesalius
C Leonardo Da Vinci
D Claudius Galen
Who is widely credited with the discovery of the first antiseptic to be used in surgery in 1865?
A Dr. James Simpson
B Dr. Robert Liston
C Dr. Joseph Lister
D Dr. Horace Wells
E Dr. John Snow
Answers are at the bottom of the article. If you have never studied the history of medicine before, you might guess the right answers and you may think that being given a test on something you have never studied before would be a colossal waste of time. But studies show this to be wrong. Getting the wrong answers alters how we think about the questions we are asked. When for example we get multiple choice questions wrong and then shown the right answer, we are far more likely to remember that information.
This may sound counter intuitive but the effects of pre-testing are hugely beneficial. In one study a group was given a pretest on a topic about which the seemingly knew little. They, not surprisingly performed badly. However, when they took the final test they outperformed all other groups, including one that had been allowed to memorise the test questions! It seems that the act of unsuccessfully trying to answer questions has a greater learning effect than studying the questions on which you are to be tested.
It also seems that just guessing on the pretest leads to real learning gains too. It is essential that the proper answers are given, but once they are time and time again the guessing group outperforms all other groups in any final test. Why might this happen? It might be that the act of generating our own guess involves us more and leads to greater attention. It might be that making mistakes alerts us to our own ignorance. When we know we don’t know, are we more likely to learn? Whatever the reason it appears that it is immensely powerful. It could also be that in trying to generate an educated guess we are really applying bits of old knowledge, making mental connections, some half-forgotten memories and because we are not expected to know the answers means we are more likely to give it a go. It removes the fear of failure. We will therefore remember the answers more too. Teachers are increasingly seeing the power of the pretest both in terms of measuring student progress and in finding out what students already know or have an inkling about. Professor John Hattie in his book, Visible Learning states that his research shows that on average students already know 40% of topics that are about to be taught. Clearly all this information means that it is important for teachers to be able to pretest students and then test them at the end of a unit using the same test. Using pretests yields great results.
By the way the answers to the questions are B and C. When I see you, I will ask you again. The chances are you will never forget!
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