Study methods put to the test

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Teachers have long been trained to help their students learn new material by filling countless whiteboards with artistic arrangements of labeled shapes connected by lines and arrows. They're known as "graphic organizers." New evidence, however, suggests that having students practice recalling new ideas--as in studying for a test--is a more effective strategy.

Researchers at Purdue University asked three groups of students to read unfamiliar text and then use one of several learning strategies: 1) creating a concept map, 2) rereading the passage several times, 3) doing nothing or 4) retrieving the information by writing down as much of it as they could remember, rereading the passage, and again writing down what they could recall.

Participants pegged the first group as the likely winner, but a week later it was the last group that scored the highest on a test that included recalling facts and drawing inferences. In a second experiment, a week after encountering new material students who used the retrieval method actually scored higher on drawing concept maps than did concept-map-makers.

Bottom line: The very thought process that students must go through when they take a test - retrieval - has more sticking power than figuring out how two circles intersect. Maybe there's a reason that the notion of tests have been around for a lot longer than Venn Diagrams.