The Testing Effect, Individual Differences, and Transfer: An Investigation of Learning Strategies Using Educational Materials



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The positive effect of testing memory has been well demonstrated in laboratory settings and there is now a growing body of supporting evidence in real educational environments. However, whether and under what conditions testing facilitates transfer of learning is still somewhat unclear. Individual differences in learning from tests have also not been extensively studied. The aim of the current study is to further investigate the limits of transfer of learning via testing and explore the role of key cognitive abilities (i.e., reading comprehension, reasoning ability, and working memory). To accomplish this goal, we use an instance in the subject of Biology where we believe that background knowledge (i.e., the components of nucleic acids) is necessary for understanding of a subsequent related concept (i.e., DNA transcription). In a within-subjects experimental design with data from 153 undergraduate students, we examined the effect of testing over background knowledge on performance on subsequent related information. Our study provides evidence of the positive effect of testing on not only exactly repeated test items (d= 1.01), but conceptually related questions (near transfer; d = .60) and questions about a subsequent related passage (far transfer; d = .21). We also report that testing influences pre-test score predictions, such that repeated testing is associated with increased pre-test confidence, while varied testing is not. Finally, we report that individual differences in cognitive ability do not interact with testing effects, but transfer performance is correlated with reasoning ability. Overall, we conclude that retrieval practice with cued recall questions is a highly effective strategy for learning complex educational materials.



Testing effects, Transfer, Individual differences, Metacognition