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Preliminary Analysis of Repeated Testing as a Method to Enhance Long-Term Retention of Knowledge

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Assessing Student Learning

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1168.1 - 22.1168.10



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Paper Authors


Paul M. Santi Colorado School of Mines

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Paul Santi is a professor of Geology and Geological Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. He has 16 experience teaching at the university level and six years experience in the geotechnical and environmental consulting industry. He obtained a B.S. in Geology and Physics from Duke University, an M.S. in Geology from Texas A&M University, and a Ph.D. in Geological Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. His research areas include ways to enhance learning in the field of geological engineering, as well as understanding and mitigation of natural hazards.

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Preliminary Analysis of Repeated Testing as a Method to Enhance Long- Term Retention of KnowledgeOne of the primary goals of education is enhancing long-term retention of principles, processes,vocabulary, and factual information. Unfortunately, studies have concluded that typically 90%of material is lost within 30 days of learning it. Repetition has been shown to be a successfulmethod of improving retention, and repetition by testing is particularly effective. It is suspectedthat the lack of repetition, especially within the critical time frame, is a weakness in the typicaluniversity curriculum, and as a result, long-term retention suffers. The goal of this study is todemonstrate that repeated learning of material during a single semester improves retention whentested 16 months later. Repeated learning is achieved by the simple process of repeated testing.Long-term retention is measured by re-testing after three semesters have passed.The course used in this study has had a recent enrollment of 60-70 sophomores. In 2009, thecourse was modified to include six exams, all of which were cumulative, covering all materialalready introduced in the course. Consequently, some topics were tested six times, later materialtested five times, and so on, with the material at the end of the semester tested only once. Along-term retention exam was prepared, consisting of 30 multiple-choice questions, dividedevenly among the general course topics. The retention exam was administered to two cohorts ofstudents: those who had taken the course in Fall 2007 and were tested in April 2009 (25 studentsin the “2007 control group”), and those who had taken the course in Fall 2008 and were tested inMarch 2010 (38 students in the “2008 control group”). The test will be given to Fall 2009students in April 2010 (40 students in the “2009 test group”) and their scores will be compared tothe control groups to demonstrate the expected improvement in retention.Baseline testing of the control groups has established an average retention score of 63%. Forcomparison, the average of test scores for the class 16 months earlier was 81%. For individualstudents, test scores in class did not correlate well with later retention scores, indicating thatsuccess in class does not indicate success in retaining information after class. Scores on theretention test did not correlate with the order of presentation of topics during class: topicspresented early or late in the semester were not retained better or worse than other topics.An evaluation was given to the 2009 test group, who had taken six cumulative exams in class.They overwhelmingly agreed that they learned the subject better by being tested frequently (80%responded “agree” or “strongly agree”). Likewise, 84% responded that multiple comprehensiveexams should continue to be given in the class. On the negative side, only 26% felt theyreviewed old material from previous exams as much as they should have. Finally, when asked ifthey had to give up time for learning new material in order to review old material, approximatelythe same number responded “yes” as “no.”

Santi, P. M. (2011, June), Preliminary Analysis of Repeated Testing as a Method to Enhance Long-Term Retention of Knowledge Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18501

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