Quit studying and take a test!

Krista Wall (Microsoft)

Check out this recent New York Times article that discusses the learning benefits from testing:

To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test

"Taking a test is not just a passive mechanism for assessing how much people know, according to new research. It actually helps people learn, and it works better than a number of other studying techniques."

What I think is really interesting about this research is that it goes beyond the preparation you might do for an exam--which we already know helps us learn. The research indicates that the act of recalling the information during a test actually helps you retrieve that information long after the test is over. 

We hear from some of our customers that the reason they pursue our certifications is because it helps them gain skills on the latest technologies. Other customers may only learn the skills tested so that they can earn the certification.

So what about you--do you learn to test, or do you test to learn?

  • Anonymous
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    Tests are useful when I search for the solutions of the questions that I failed to answer during the test.

    Otherwise, it seems to make a logical solution among 4 or 5 choices that I will not have in a real life scenario.

    But especially for certification exams, at least I realize what is new and there are methods and solutions other that I used to

  • farhansattar
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    I have always believed and practiced and taught students that those who book the exam are more likely to pass then those that keep studying for it!

  • Anonymous
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    It doesn't look like it's a matter of booking the exam, it appears that actually having to recall the information for the exam helps cement the information into long-term memory.  This makes perfect sense.  We learn millions of pieces of information over our lifetime and our brains have to have some sort of method for sorting the important information from the unimportant information.  If particular pieces of information are are tested, i.e., there is a situation requiring their recall shortly after being exposed to them then our brains will "tag" that information as important and it will be more readily available for future use.

    It's very similar to being required to solve some sort of problem.  Once you have used a specific piece of information to solve a problem/fix an issue then that information tends to stick with you, even to the point that you can recall it years later completely out of context.

  • Andrew Bettany
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    Great post Krista.  

    Like Farhan, I agree that having a target date/exam booked is a great motivator when studying.  As a MCT I need to take tests often, and I find that booking the exam, say 2 weeks into the future certainly prevents me from procrastinating!  

    Another tip I give my students in class, is to imagine just before the test, that the first 10 questions are going to be really, really hard.  Now whatever actually happens in the test is probably completely random, but this mind game can help.  If you get some rock hard questions, your brain will remember my advice and will not feel on a downer, but instead carry on....and hopefully keep you going to the end of the test!

    Of course nothing can help you more in a test than sound understanding and good experience of the software.  Dont rely on luck or poor preparation - that is a sure way to throw away $125 or £88!

    Good luck everyone :-)


  • Krista Wall (Microsoft)
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    Other Kevin, you're absolutely correct. The point of the article is not that scheduling the test helps you learn--though scheduling it provides great motivation for learning. Instead, the research indicates that the act of having to retrieve the information during a test helps pave the way into long-term retention. In other words, if you're tested on it, you'll remember it longer.

  • Anonymous
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    Definitely test to learn. Of the material in the ms exams I have taken, about 50-60% are stuff that I use or troubleshoot on a daily basis, so the act of preparing for the test helps me fill in the gaps in my knowledge. This makes it more likely that I would be able to propose a solution or technology that I hadn't known about since I had to learn it for the exam.