Practice What the educators are saying

Putting the cart before the horse: testing to improve learning

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: (Published 08 March 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:535
  1. Kevin W Eva, associate professor and associate chair
  1. Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Program for Educational Research and Development, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, L8N 3Z5, Canada
  1. evakw{at}

    One source of tension and debate among educators is the role that tests should play in education. On the one hand, some argue that there is a clear need for reliable and valid assessment. Others, however, worry about negative consequences of tests, such as “cramming.” Although the cost:benefit ratio is highly dependent on the context in which testing is used, recent literature is burgeoning with suggestions that there may be pedagogical benefits to testing that have been underappreciated and understudied.

    Testing yields better long term retention than repeated studying

    Investigating what has been called the “testing effect,” Roediger and Karpicke report on a pair of experiments in which students were asked to study a series of prose passages. In one study, half of the participants were asked to study the material a second time (the “study” group), whereas the other half were asked to write down as much of the material as they …

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