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The Effect Of Announced/Unannounced Examinations On Student Retention

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.454.1 - 1.454.9

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John C. Reis

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2530

The Effect of Announced/Unannounced Examinations on Student Retention

John C. Reis Aerospace Engineering Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Prescott, AZ 86301


A hypothesis that students given unannounced quizzes in engineering classes, instead of announced midterms, would have a improved long-term retention of the course material was tested using two sections of an introductory fluid mechanics class. The hypothesis was based on the assumption that a series of unannounced quizzes minimizes "cramming" and results in more material being placed in long-term memory. Long-term retention was found not to be statistically different for the two sections and the hypothesis was not proven. When learning and testing occur at high levels in Bloom's taxonomy, substantial material is automatically placed in long-term memory and retention is independent of testing method, regardless of how much "cramming" occurs.


Most engineering science classes evaluate student understanding of the material through one or more examinations during the semester and a comprehensive final examination. Many students prepare for announced examinations through an intensive study immediately before the examination, e.g., cramming. Although this method has proven to be a successful method for preparing for individual examinations, its value for long-term retention is questionable. Cramming normally places the learned material in short-term memory, where is it available for the imminent examination, but is forgotten shortly thereafter.

It was hypothesized that students would retain an understanding of the material for a longer period of time if their study habits were altered so that they studied the same material multiple times over the course of the semester instead of just prior to announced examinations. This behavior would place more of the material in long-term memory, improving retention for use in subsequent classes and after graduation.

A number of methods exist to encourage students to study the same material multiple times during the semester. Multiple examinations covering the same material would, at a minimum, force students to "cram" the same material a number of times. Multiple examinations, however, have the limitation that they replace classroom learning time with evaluation time. This loss of learning time limits the number of in-class examinations that may be given. Another method for encouraging students to study the same material multiple times is to give unannounced examinations. Not knowing which day the examination will be given encourages students to be more prepared at all times. Thus, they will likely review the material more times.

1996 ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings

Reis, J. C. (1996, June), The Effect Of Announced/Unannounced Examinations On Student Retention Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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