Are you a ‘if all else fails, choose ‘C’’ kind of person when it comes to standardized tests? Or when you lift your pencil to change your answer to a question does the ago-old theory of ‘your first answer is usually the correct one’ shout in the back of your mind? If you answered yes to either of these questions you may want to read further.

No. 2 Pencils Image: Melissa Hincha-Ownby via Flickr

No. 2 Pencils
Image: Melissa Hincha-Ownby via Flickr

It is a breath of fresh air to hear about studies on learning. In a rapidly changing world where we are constantly looking to improve our nation’s education system, it is certainly to our benefit to take what we learn from research and use it accordingly in making decisions about teaching techniques and our curriculum. There’s an analogy for this. Would we administer a vaccine that hadn’t passed clinical trials to thousands of people? Most likely not. You would want to take a vaccine that had already passed testing trials. When it comes “curing” our education system, why should we treat it any differently than how we develop and distribute vaccines? Without sufficient research on education and learning that reveals effective methods, we might as well all be teaching with blindfolds on.

A recent article discussed a study called, “Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques.” This study examined the utility of common study techniques students use to comprehend and absorb reading passages. If you are a person who relies on highlighting and underlining material in order to understand and retain material, you may be disappointed to hear that this is not the most effective technique. Results from this study suggest that summarization in your own words of reading passages may be a better technique for identifying the author’s thesis and the key points in the passage.

Other studies have also debunked the test taking strategy of ‘don’t change your first answer.’ It has been found that changing answers typically does not hurt students’ test scores In one study in particular, changing answers helped 54% of the students compared to hurting 19% of the students. It is suggested that when considering changing your answer on a standardized test, ask yourself why the answer your choosing is correct. Asking yourself  this question will require you to think critically about your answer and will help you avoid making an answer that simply “looks good” or “sounds good.”

To leave you with some test taking tips: Summarize in your own words and think critically!


Cover Image: Mammal via Flickr