Getting tested is better for studying than concept mapping

23 January 2011


Researchers this week have found that, for fact-based subjects, practising a retrieval exercise produces better test results than concept mapping.

ReadingBased at the Purdue University, Jeffrey Karpicke and Janell Blunt ran several tests on 120 college students in the U.S. In their experiment, they had students create a concept map from a set text and then the tested the students on what they had learned.  A concept map, for those that don't know, is a sort of spider diagram with lots of lines linking up ideas and facts. The concept map was actually developed in the 70s by Joseph Novak and quite a few institutions now encourage its use.

The researchers then had the students complete a sort of reading comprehension or 'retrieval exercise' on the text and then tested them on what they'd learned. So the students were essentially being tested on the test and then tested again. What they found was that students performed better on the retrieval exercise than they did on the mind mapping exercise. What's more, they retained the knowledge for longer if they learned using retrieval.

Publishing in Science, the researchers claim that it's both the act of recall and the act of reconstructing knowledge that are key for learning. But if you're still a huge fanatic of concept mapping you could, of course, combine the two by creating a mind map from memory. So if you want to do well in exams, just make sure you test yourself!


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