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How to Get the Most Out Of Practice Testing

Imagine taking an archery workshop. A trained guide gives you a brief history of archery, shows you how to hold a bow and notch an arrow, and teaches you how to fire an arrow. Does that make you an archer?

No! It will only provide the base. What will make you an archer is your ability to hit the bulls-eye, and that will only come after practice, practice, and more practice.

This is how human beings are wired. It applies to any kind of skill in life, including how well your kids do on their exams! It’s not enough that they pay attention in lessons at school and in their homework. In order for concepts to really stick kids need repetition. It’s the only way to ensure they hit their targets.

The notion that practice makes perfect isn’t just an intuitive one when it comes to testing – it’s backed by science. In fact, there’s even a word for it: it’s called the “testing effect,” which refers to the finding that long-term memory is often increased when some of the learning period is devoted to retrieving the to-be-remembered information.

Numerous studies since the early ‘90s have shown that learners who tested their knowledge during practice later remembered more information than learners who spent the same amount of time studying the complete information. This makes practice tests not only an assessment tool,but a crucial part of the teaching toolkit.

Read it again: Practice tests will help increase your kids’ long-term memory recall of the subjects practiced.

Practice testing basically exercises the brain like a muscle. Every time you retrieve information, you build new connections between synapses in your brain, strengthening the connections and consolidating the memories. This, in turn, enables you to more easily access the information in the future.

So, as parents, we definitely want to implement practice testing at home. But we want to do this effectively, without overloading our kids and thereby undoing any potential good effects it can have. How do we get the best out of practice testing? Well, science has some pointers.

How long to dedicate to practice tests?

Answer: At least 30 minutes practice per week

In order to get the benefits of practice testing, ensure that your kids are getting at the very least 30 minutes of practice on online programs every week. Multiple studies (including a peer reviewed study by Edmentum, an eLearning solution) have shown that students who spend at least this much time per week practicing online experienced significantly more growth than those who did not.

This finding is also backed by a meta-analysis on the effectiveness of educational technology applications published by Cheung and Slavin in 2013.

How long should practice sessions be?

Answer: Distribute practice over several sessions

For maximum effect of these online practice sessions, stick to several short sessions rather than really long blocks of time. The study mentioned in the previous point has also shown that students who have one session of 15 minutes or longer as a part of their 30 minutes of practice each week achieved the best results. The technique of spacing out short practice sessions over time is one of the highest-utility learning techniques according to leading research.

However, remember that longer sessions help students to build their stamina and focus their efforts on a single topic for a longer period of time. Work with your child to strike the right balance.

What kind of question formats to practice?

Answer: Different types of test formats

A 2017 meta-analysis of 118 research articles found the following regarding retention of information with different test formats for practice tests:

  • The most effective type of practice test was mixed format practice tests, which have more than one question type. This is perhaps because different question formats require students to load different cognitive processes and resolve the interference between them, leading to better long-term retention and transfer. This is due to a process called interleaving, and this strategy is particularly useful if you’re studying something that involves problem solving, like math practice.
  • The best single-format tests were multiple-choice practice tests. This may be because MCQs are easier, and research suggests that less demanding retrieval practice activities promote stronger retention because they allow students to focus all of their cognitive energy on a simple task.

What does this mean for test day? It means that it is of absolute importance to practice all the different formats. Memories are easier to retrieve when the retrieval process is similar to how they were encoded during an initial learning activity, due to a phenomenon known as Transfer-Appropriate Processing. So mix it up and make sure your kids are exercising all of their test-taking abilities.

Final thoughts

Practice testing is one of the easiest and most effective things you can implement at home to help your kids do well in school. And Georgia Test Prep has a comprehensive bank of GSA questions designed by Georgia parents and teachers to help you do this. 

The right online tools can be a big help in designing a rigorous and effective test preparation program for your child without taking up all of your time. Georgian Test Prep has your back with a tool that is created especially for Georgia state students.