Pretests Alter the Way We Process Information

Back in 2013, Grant Wiggins, PhD at Authentic Education, wrote an article for TeachThought where he shared the gratifying reaction of his students when they compared their first semester assignment to their last. Both assignments covered the same topic allowing students to see how much knowledge they had acquired during the course. Dr. Wiggins suggested that pretests and posttests promoted self assessment and, furthermore, remarkable gains in student achievement. In his article, he even includes a method for how you (a teacher) can measure your effectiveness using pretests and posttests.

A year later the New York Times shared even stronger findings on pretesting in Why Flunking Exams is Actually a Good Thing.  The article reported that current studies are showing how the process of taking a pretest alters “the way we think about and store the information contained in the questions…we benefit from answering incorrectly by, in effect, priming our brain for what’s coming later.”  Therefore,  bombing a pretest actually helps us fail forward when it comes to the actual final test.  Furthermore, in a study at UCLA, psychologist Elizabeth Ligon Bjork found that students who participated in a pretest improved by an average of 10% on the final test.

The concluding insight according to the article is that  testing might be “the key to studying” rather than the summation of reading, memorizing, note taking, highlighting, etc. A test is, quite possibly, the strongest way to enrich and alter the memory.

Student excited at post test

Even though Edulastic was but a molecular cloud back then, an automated way to measure these gains was part of the promise. If you are already familiar with the dashboard, you know how easy it is to track each student’s and a class’ mastery of a set of standards. Creating both pre- and post- tests in Edulastic with the goal of both measuring and driving home student learning is a slightly different and entirely powerful way to use the online assessment platform.

How to Make Pretest and Posttests

In order to compare apples to apples and truly get the “Wow I learned that?!” factor, keep the pretest and posttests relatively the same.

That being said, Wiggins added an appendix to the posttest where the students described their reaction after looking at their initial answers on the pretest. If you want to do this, it can be done by modifying your pre test and using the free response or essay style of question. In some cases, you may even want to include a place for students to reflect at the end of the pretest.

Many of the students said that the exercise was among the most enlightening and gratifying that they had experienced as students. One young man said it perfectly: I had no idea how much I had learned!  -Grant Wiggins, PhD

Today you will find quite a few “public” pre- and post- tests in the Edulastic Assessment library for chapters, units, novels, etc.

If you are looking for a meaningful way to measure growth and empower your students, check out the aforementioned articles and consider implementing this process for the coming school year.  If you find a set of assessments in the library that match your lesson, you could use one of these and add a reflection question at the end of the second assignment.  Or, create your own.

Either way, if you include the terms “Pretest” and “Posttest” in the title of your assessments and mark them as “public” others can search for them in the library.

Will you try it out? Keep us updated! We’d love to learn the outcome of your pre- and post- testing strategies at the end of the year, unit, novel or chapter.

Jennie Tookoian is a secondary ELA teacher in central California and a Teacher Advocate at Edulastic.

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