Self-Testing Promotes Superior Retention of Anatomy and Physiology Information

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Advances in Health Sciences Education






The testing effect shows that learning is enhanced by the act of recalling information after exposure. Although the testing effect is among the most robust findings in cognitive science, much of its empirical support is from laboratory studies and it has been applied as a strategy for enhancing learning in the classroom in a limited fashion. The purpose of this investigation was to replicate the testing effect in a university anatomy and physiology course and to extend the applicability of it to independent student study. Students repeatedly studied three sets of passages that described structures and concepts pertaining to (1) cardiac electrophysiology, (2) ventilation and (3) endocrinology. Each student was randomly assigned to study one of those three passage sets by reading it three consecutive times (R–R–R), another by reading and then rereading it while taking notes (R–R + N) and the third by reading it, recalling as much as possible (i.e., self-testing) and then rereading it (R–T–R). Retention assessed after 1 week was significantly greater following R–T–R (53.95 ± 1.72) compared to R–R–R (48.04 ± 1.83) and R–R + N (48.31 ± 1.78). Evidence is also presented that suggests students benefited from instructions to self-test when preparing for exams on their own. The testing effect, then, can be generalized to real-life settings such as university anatomy and physiology courses and to independent study situations.