Pop Quizzes at Work? Employees Learn From Testing

A pop quiz every now and then might be the best way to get the most out of employees, a new study finds.

Research published by the by the American Psychological Association revealed that older adults who haven't been in school for a while learn just as much from tests as do younger adults. And people of all ages learn more when tested on material, compared to when they simply re-read or re-study information.

"The use of testing as a way to learn new information has been thoroughly examined in young students," said the study's lead author, Ashley Meyer, a cognitive psychologist with the Houston Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Center of Excellence. "This research builds on that and supports the notion that educators, or even employers, can use tests to increase learning in adults of all ages."

As part of the study, researchers gave participants 15 minutes to study and read materials on four separate topics. The participants then took a multiple-choice test on two of the four topics. The tests were then graded, and participants were given their scores.

Following that, the participants restudied the other two topics that the test had not covered. Some participants then took a final exam, which tested them on all four subjects. This exam was more difficult, since it required participants to write answers rather than simply select from multiple choices. Some participants took the test right away, while others took it two days later.

Researchers found that adults of various ages improved their retention of new information when they were tested on the material and received feedback on their scores, compared to when they just re-studied the material. And this improvement was similar to that shown by college students.

"Both groups benefited from the initial testing more than the additional studying," Meyer said. "Taking the test and then being told how many answers they got wrong or correct was enough for these adults to improve their memory of the material as shown in a final, more difficult test."

Participants who took the final test on the same day as the study period did significantly better than those who took it a couple of days later. However, older adults, who presumably have poorer memories than young college students, still showed improved retention after a two-day delay for previously tested material as compared to re-studied material.

"Working adults often need to gain new skills or knowledge as they advance through their careers," said Meyer. "Our research suggests that testing may be one way to help them improve and move up."

The study, co-authored by Rice University's Jessica Logan, was recently published online in the journal Psychology and Aging.

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