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Self-Testing to Improve Grades

A girl using practice tests to self-test

Do you want to boost your learning and improve your grades? Look no further than self-testing! This highly effective learning strategy, also known as retrieval learning, has been proven to enhance memory retention and exam performance. For instance, Kang et al. (2007) investigated the effectiveness of self-testing in a university-level biology course. They found that students who engaged in self-testing, either by answering practice questions or generating their own questions, performed significantly better on subsequent exams compared to those who restudied the material without testing. In this blog post, we will explore the science of learning behind self-testing and provide you with practical tips on how to incorporate it into your study routine.

What is Self-Testing?

Self-testing is a learning technique in which you actively recall information from memory rather than passively reviewing it. Instead of rereading textbooks or notes, engaging in self-testing involves retrieving knowledge from your memory and assessing your understanding. As counterintuitive as it may sound, this process of forgetting and recalling is incredibly beneficial for learning and long-term retention.

The Science of Learning behind Self-Testing

Retrieval Practice: Self-testing is a form of retrieval practice, a concept firmly supported by cognitive psychology. According to research, actively retrieving information from memory strengthens connections between neurons, making it easier to access that information in the future. By repeatedly practicing retrieval, you build a robust framework of knowledge that is easily accessible during exams.

Spaced Learning: Another crucial aspect of self-testing is spacing out your practice sessions over time. This technique, known as spaced learning or spaced repetition, helps consolidate information in long-term memory. Regular self-testing at strategically spaced intervals prevents the information from fading away and ensures that it moves from short-term memory to long-term memory.

Metacognition: Self-testing also enhances your metacognitive skills, which involve monitoring and regulating your own learning. By actively assessing your understanding through testing, you gain insight into your strengths and weaknesses. This metacognitive awareness empowers you to allocate your study time effectively and focus on areas that require further attention.

Practical Strategies for Self-Testing

Now that you understand the science behind self-testing, let's explore some practical strategies to incorporate it into your study routine:

Flashcards: Create flashcards with questions or prompts on one side and answers on the other. Regularly quiz yourself using these flashcards to reinforce your memory.

Practice Exams: Seek out practice exams or past papers relevant to your subject. Set a timer and simulate exam conditions to maximize the effectiveness of your self-testing.

Concept Mapping: Use concept mapping to organize and visually represent the information you have learned. Challenge yourself to recall and connect different concepts without referring to your notes.

Brain Dumps: A "brain dump" is a technique where you write down all the information you can recall about a particular topic without referring to any external resources.

Teach Someone: Explaining concepts to others is an excellent way to test your own understanding. Find a study partner or teach a friend about a topic you are studying.

Online Tools: Utilize online platforms and apps that offer interactive quizzes or question banks. These tools can provide immediate feedback and some online tools track your progress over time.

One of the great advantages of our learning modules is many of these self-testing strategies are built in. In fact, our learning modules are centred around the use of practice tests by which you can continually self-test yourself. Our online tools include practice exams, flashcards, and open-ended questions (brain dumps). Check out these modules at


Self-testing is a powerful tool for enhancing learning and improving grades. By engaging in retrieval practice, spacing out your study sessions, and honing your metacognitive skills, you can cultivate an effective and efficient study routine. Incorporate self-testing strategies into your learning journey and watch your grades soar. Happy studying!


Carpenter, S. K., & Pashler, H. (2007). Testing beyond words: Using tests to enhance visuospatial map learning. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14(3), 474-478. doi: 10.3758/BF03194084

Iowa State University. (2020, September 17). Quizzes improve academic performance. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 13, 2024 from

Kang, S. H. K., McDermott, K. B., & Roediger, H. L. (2007). Test format and corrective feed-

back modify the effect of testing on long- term retention. European Journal of Cognitive

Psychology, 19,  528– 558.

Roediger, H. L., & Butler, A. C. (2011). The critical role of retrieval practice in long-term retention. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15(1), 20-27. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2010.09.003

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