Is Testing Helping Your Memory?

Written by Katelynn Brown

Testing in education, is a concept that has been questioned and debated for centuries. Many question the benefits, drawbacks, and outcomes of testing in the classroom. Especially when considering learning in the classroom, many question how the testing process can impact student learning. When thinking about testing, many question how repeated testing can be beneficial to students and if testing truly impacts the learning experience? The answer… when used appropriately and effectively testing can benefit both the teacher and the students in the classroom. When used appropriately students are given the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills, recognize where they are making mistakes, and provide opportunities to improve retrieval and memory. Teachers able to use results from testing to plan and correct instruction to help support the development of students and to provide additional instruction where needed.

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Did I Forget That?

Have you ever found yourself asking, “Where did I leave my phone?” If you have, like many others, you became frustrated trying to remember trying to remember where you placed it. You searched around frantically looking for and trying to remember the last place that you might have seen it. Many times we find ourselves becoming frustrated with our memories and wonder why it doesn’t work like a computer. That’s because your memory is better! In the mind, our memory works by forming complex associations between cues present in our environments and target information stored in our brain. The target of these cues, is to trigger a memory.

When considering our memory, researchers have argued that memory helps us predict the future. Our memories take into account the complex patterns based on environment, context, and frequency that help it generate the best possible target with the information it has. Information that doesn’t get used very often is forgotten, unless it was associated with an emotionally-charged and important event. The more that you use memory the better it becomes. Researchers have studied testing as a way of practicing memory and examining what factors improve our memory by focusing on the process of retrieval. Retrieval is the process of rebuilding in order to call information to mind. Every time something is recalled and an individual is able to go through the process of retrieval, they get better at rebuilding the memory making it easier to remember the information in the future. As teachers, it is crucial to remember that retrieval is an active process that changes the learning experience of students. Through testing, quizzing, and repeated practice, students are able to change their retrieval ability for the future. Thus strengthening connections between cues and memories. In order for students to learn and succeed, it is important to provide opportunities for students to practice and to be tested in real-world scenarios. While in the classroom, teachers can use multiple techniques and strategies to help the students strengthen their retrieval, memory, and learning abilities.

How Can I Improve Memory?

Everyday students are learning and acquiring more knowledge both inside and outside of the classroom. As students continue to learn, it is important that they have effective strategies to help students make connection and utilize their memory to remember information. In the classroom, there are many strategies and activities that teachers can utilize to help students make connections and remember information. Through the use of these strategies students can improve their memory and retrieval abilities.

  1. Teach students to use visual images and other memory strategies

When learning new material, it is often easier to remember information that has been presented in different ways. Especially when teaching new concepts, it is important to use visual aids to help organize information. Images can be used as a retrieval cue to facilitate the recall or access of store information. Visual images or other words that the new information is associated with at the time it is stored in long-term memory. Through the use of visual cues it is easier to remember what has been read and seen. When students are provided with the retrieval cues, it is easier for them to access information that has been stored in long-term memory. The use of multisensory instruction enhances memory and learning or children. By presenting information in multiple formats, students are able to recode information, make meaningful connections, and facilitate long-term memory storage.


  1. Activate prior knowledge

When students are learning new information, teachers should activate their prior knowledge about the subject being taught. Activating prior knowledge about a topic provides students with a “hook” to hang new information on in their mental memory network. Teachers can utilize this strategy by discussing vocabulary, helping students make personal connections to the material, and discussing the topic prior to the lesson. This strategy allows students to focus on the more crucial information and engage in more effective depth of processing.

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  1. Help students develop cues

Memory research has found that information is retrieved by using a cue and that cue should be present at the time the information is being retrieved. Teachers can use different cueing forms to help students make connections and remember information presented. Teachers can incorporate this into the classroom by providing students with different cues such as multisensory cues, helping students develop personal cues, and through the use of mnemonics. The use of mnemonic methods can provide the scaffolding for higher order thinking for students. Mnemonic learning can be helpful for retrieval of information in long-term memory. Mnemonics also provide visual imagery or verbal elaborations that serve as cues for recalling information that is meaningful. An example of this would be the acronym HOMES which can be used to represent the names of the great lakes. When using this strategy students can generate their own devices or their teachers can provide them.

  1. Provide retrieval practice

Research has shown that long-term memory is enhanced when students engage in retrieval practice. In the classroom, teachers can provide students with multiple opportunities to recall information from long term memory. Teachers can help students practice retrieval by asking questions and creating activities that incorporate recalling previous information that was presented in class. The process of testing can also help students practice retrieval. Prior to taking a test, when teachers review information they ask students questions or have students make up questions which allows students to recall information. When students are asked to create test questions, teachers are then able to determine what knowledge students remember and where students might need help recalling information. This allows students opportunities to practice recall and memory as well as providing teachers with information of what knowledge students have acquired. Practice tests can help to boost long term retention and can help decrease stress. Teachers can incorporate multiple forms of testing to help students practice their retrieval and recall abilities.

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  1. The spacing effect

Many times in the classroom, students are presented with new topics every day. Instead key ideas and concepts should be revisited throughout the school year. Research has shown that students tend to perform better academically when given multiple opportunities to review learned material. Teachers can incorporate this strategy in the classroom by asking students questions related to the previous content, creating activities and lessons that connect the material, or using homework to re-expose students to prior information.


Terada, Y. (2017, September 20). Why students forget and what you can do about it.         Retrieved 2017, from what-you-can-do-about-it

Thorne, G. (2003, January 1). What strategies can be used to increase memory? Retrieved 2017, from

Thorne, G. (2006). 10 strategies to enhance students’ memory. Retrieved 2017, from

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