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14-Oct-2010

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Why you should take that vocabulary test



An illustration of how individuals in each group practiced items during the learning phase.
Image © Science/AAAS

Quizzes don't just tell us how well we've memorized something—they actually help us remember it, scientists say in a new study.

One of the key reasons seems to be that we give ourselves more effective mental hints when we're being tested than when we're just studying.

Mary Pyc and Katherine Rawson of Kent State University call these mental hints "mediators" and define them as words, phrases or concepts that link the information in a question with the answer you're trying to remember.



An illustration of the three different kinds of final tests. Image © Science/AAAS

The researchers presented over 100 college-students with 48 pairs of words in Swahili and English, such as "wingu-cloud." While they were first studying these word pairs, the students were asked to come up with clues, or mediators, that looked or sounded similar to the Swahili word but whose meaning was related to the English word. In the "wingu-cloud" example, "wing" might be the clue.

Students who were given a quiz midway through the study process performed better in the final test than those just studied the whole time. And, during that first quiz, the students who were used the clues they'd thought up did even better than those who didn't.

The researchers report these findings in the 15 October issue of the journal Science.

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