When Pretesting Fails to Enhance Learning Concepts From Reading Texts

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Abstract

Prior research suggests that people can learn more from reading a text when they attempt to answer pretest questions first. Specifically, pretests on factual information explicitly stated in a text increases the likelihood that participants can answer identical questions after reading than if they had not answered pretest questions. Yet, a central goal of education is to develop deep conceptual understanding. The present experiments investigated whether conceptual pretests facilitate learning concepts from reading texts. In Experiment 1, participants were given factual or conceptual pretest questions; a control group was not given a pretest. Participants then read a passage and took a final test consisting of both factual and conceptual questions. Some of the final test questions were repeated from the pretest and some were new. Although factual pretesting improved learning for identical factual questions, conceptual pretesting did not enhance conceptual learning. Conceptual pretest errors were significantly more likely to be repeated on the final test than factual pretest errors. Providing correct answers (Experiment 2) or correct/incorrect feedback (Experiment 3) following pretest questions enhanced performance on repeated conceptual test items, although these benefits likely reflect memorization and not conceptual understanding. Thus, pretesting appears to provide little benefit for learning conceptual information.

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