The act of retrieving information from memory challenges the brain, it greases the wheels of memory.
This greasing the wheel in studying using retrieval methods is hard work – creating and answering quizzes on information you are reading and learning instead of merely reading and re-reading. Creating and answering the quizzes feels uncomfortable and ineffective, which leads to erroneous judgments that the material is not being learned. When information is easy to study and learn, students believe it has been learned well, when the opposite is actually true.
According to Mark McDaniel with Washington University in St. Louis:
“I think most people want learning to be easy and effortless. They want a magic bullet for it. And learning is not easy and effortless. It takes work, and it takes effort and time and dedication.”
The most effective study and learning methods are not only hard, but they are counter-intuitive. Retrieval, the testing effect, and distributed practice are all research-proven to be much more effective than reading & rereading, highlighting, rote memorization, and cramming. Yet, students don’t know about these research-proven study and learning methods OR don’t believe that they are more effective than “tried and true” methods.
Students are never taught how to study.
“One of the gaps or problems in the educational system is that no one ever helps a student figure out how to learn, and yet that’s the primary challenge a student is faced with. You’ve got to assist them with how to do that. And that’s where I think we’re failing somewhat,” according to McDaniel.
Traditional class structures in higher education also feed into and encourage bad study habits. Professors lecture, give a midterm exam, and a final exam. This assessment structure leads to students rereading, reviewing notes, and cramming right before exams. This is even more pronounced in law school where Professors lecture via Socratic Method and only give a final exam.
Frequent quizzing is a smart and effective learning tool. Frequent quizzing over the course of the semester forces students to continuously retrieve material they are learning repeatedly over the course of a term. Each retrieval attempt creates more durable learning. Quizzes can be incorporated into any syllabus, even in courses where Professors choose to give final summative exams.