Author bio: Anna is a Senior Learning Scientist and Data Scientist at Quizlet. Before joining Quizlet, she received her PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from Stanford, researching how memories are formed in the brain. Anna grew up in Los Angeles and currently lives in the Bay Area.
In the last part of this series, I talked about how Gen Z students use Quizlet for different approaches to learning. Sometimes they use the platform for intensive cram sessions. Other times they use Quizlet’s tools to further progress toward clear, long-term objectives. In either case, the desire to learn needs to be combined with the right learning strategies to get the most out of study time. With the next few posts, we’ll cover some of the top study strategies.
One of the most powerful strategies is testing yourself. A well-known way to test yourself is to... well... take a test. Students benefit from practice testing not just because it helps them understand what to expect come test day, but because they go through the process of actively remembering the information they’ll need for the test. They may also learn more about themselves as a result. Overall score not what you expected? Maybe it’s time to switch up your study strategy.
Taking a practice test isn’t the only way to test yourself on Quizlet. In fact, most ways to study on Quizlet involve actively recalling information, be it with a flashcard, a short answer question, or a fill-in-the-blank question. But to become a strategic learner, taking practice tests is essential. Here I want to discuss how and why self-testing not only helps students with specific objectives but also helps them learn how to learn.
How students learn from practice tests
The principle powering self-testing is what learning scientists call retrieval practice. This is the use of active recall to better absorb new information—and retain it in the long run (Roediger & Butler, 2011).
While practice tests undoubtedly have the direct benefit of strengthening memories with retrieval practice, that’s not the main reason students self-test. A mere 18 percent of students (Kornell & Bjork, 2007) say they self-test for this direct benefit.
Most students say they use self-testing for the indirect benefit: the ability to monitor their progress and change course if necessary (Kornell & Bjork, 2007). Among those taking practice tests on Quizlet, 70 percent keep studying after taking the test. It’s likely they are using practice tests to monitor their progress and find gaps in their knowledge. Most don’t seem to be relying solely on practice tests for retrieval practice.
Quizlet offers practice tests through a feature called Test Mode. Here, students can set up a variety of tests that allow them to check and recalibrate their learning strategy. They can create written tests, multiple choice exams, or set up True/False and matching tests. After submitting their answers, they receive a final score and feedback on each question.
Strategies that empower every learner
When students engage in long-term goal-setting, they are more likely to check in on their progress towards meeting those goals. They also plan out their studying ahead of time, so they’re comfortable scheduling practice tests. Having more lead time lets them experiment with different study strategies, so they may discover that actively recalling information helps with memorizing.
However, Gen Z students who are stretched for time or still learning how to learn may benefit from practice tests the most. These students may struggle with goal-setting and time management. They may rely on high-stress cram sessions for learning before exams. If study time is limited, it’s even more critical for students to use their time effectively.
Practice tests can focus limited study time on problem areas, instead of going over familiar territory. In the long run, keeping track of practice test performance could help these learners recalibrate and find strategies that help them gain back control over their learning process.
Having fun with self-testing
Self-testing is super effective, but it can also feel too hard. Researchers have experimented with a variety of strategies to balance effectiveness with fun (Vaughn & Kornell, 2019). When students need inspiration to get started, Quizlet’s games offer support. Adding time pressure or competition to a learning activity can be a way to spark and sustain interest over time.
Evidence suggests many Quizlet learners use study games like Match Mode to stay motivated throughout studying. Users combine games with other, less gamified study modes. Of Quizlet users who study using games, 80% use them in conjunction with other forms of studying.
This includes 20% who use them to warm up for study sessions, before continuing on to other study modes. Another 20% use games as a final review when wrapping up. Only 20% rely on our games alone to meet their learning needs on Quizlet.
When students embrace self-testing for its direct benefits through retrieval practice, along with the indirect benefits from monitoring progress, they learn how to set their own goals and become unstoppable. Learning how to use practice tests adeptly builds a student’s sense of autonomy, while helping them make the most of precious time. As they discover strategies that work well for them, they earn the confidence to take on tougher challenges. Self-testing can support Gen Z’s self-learners in school and beyond, amplifying their sense of ownership.