Council on Medical Student Education in Pediatrics


Search This Site

Journal Club

Do Practice Tests Make Perfect?

Rethinking the Use of Tests: A Meta-Analysis of Practice Testing.  Adesope OO, Trevisan DA, Sundararajan N.  Rev Ed Research 2017;41:1-43

Reviewed by Noah Kohn

Tags: Assessment – MCQ, Feedback, Qualitative, Retrospective, Review article, meta-analysis

What was the study question?

Do practice tests enhance or inhibit learning?

How was the study done?

An extensive literature search identified 1,717 studies on testing effect of which 118 articles met inclusion criteria for final review.

What were the results?

Practice tests were shown to have statistically significant benefits which are moderate when compared to simply restudying and which are large when compared to filler activities or no activities.   Multiple-choice practice tests had a higher mean effect than short-answer tests; practice tests that are identical in format to the final test yield a stronger testing effect; and practice tests taken only once produced a more robust effect than when taken two or more times.  Giving feedback after the practice test was more effective than not giving feedback, but not significantly so. 

What are the implications?

The results of this analysis do not suggest that reading appropriate texts should be abandoned as the initial mode of studying.  They do, however, clearly indicate that practice tests are more effective than any other mode of studying materials for either retention or transfer of knowledge.  Not surprisingly, studying of any kind was better than not studying. It seems counter-intuitive that feedback on practice test performance should not appear to matter.  This unexpected result is especially jarring, given the weight often credited to reading and understanding the explanations to the answers typically provided with most medical practice exams.  Also surprising was the apparent lack of benefit to taking more than one practice test compared to only taking one test. Lastly, that the format of the practice tests should be as similar as possible to the actual tests may finally provide an answer to that burning question:  Kaplan or UWorld?

Editor’s note: This is a lengthy and comprehensive analysis of the benefits of practice tests as a means to prepare for a high stakes examination. (RR)

Return to Journal Club