Multiple choice tests are:
A. Only effective for assessing superficial, rote memorization
B. Only effective for assessing deep, conceptual understanding
C. Best at promoting short-term retention of material (e.g., for an upcoming exam)
D. A good way to ensure long-term retention of material
According to an article just published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, the answer — perhaps surprisingly — can sometimes be choice D. But it depends on how multiple choice questions are designed and deployed.
Here's a hint: they shouldn't just appear on the final exam.
Researchers have known for a long time that repeatedly testing yourself on new material — by, for example, answering multiple choice or free-response questions — is more effective than repeatedly reviewing that material when it comes to remembering it one week later. They've also known that it's better to spread out studying over a long period of time rather than cramming right before an exam. This sounds like a recipe for many short tests throughout a course rather than the one or two midterms and final exams with which we're all familiar.
But how does this play out in actual classrooms to improve student learning? Are there benefits to incorporating multiple choice testing throughout the semester, perhaps with in-class or online quizzes or using newer "clicker" systems during lecture? And if there are benefits to repeated multiple choice testing, are they limited to memory for the specific content of the questions that were presented throughout the course, or do they generalize to related content?
The new paper, authored by Arnold L. Glass and Neha Sinha, reviews nine recent experimental studies that explore these questions in real classes, and the results are encouraging.
Students who received multiple choice questions throughout a course performed better than those who didn't when it came to final exams. And importantly, the benefit generalized to multiple choice questions that were related but not identical to those previously presented, and even to related short-answer questions. In some cases, the benefits of repeated testing yielded an advantage that amounted to a letter grade or more.
These findings have practical importance because they support a pedagogical strategy that's so easy to adopt. Repeated multiple choice testing is fast and inexpensive to implement and grade, even at large scales. It's also something that students (of any age and subject matter) can incorporate into their own study habits.
The findings are also theoretically important insofar as they shed light on the human mind and our remarkable ability to learn. Most likely, several factors converge to make repeated testing an effective strategy. For one thing, testing can be more active and engaging than passively reviewing notes or listening to lecture. It also forces you to recognize what you haven't yet mastered — a kind of awareness that simply reading or listening won't necessarily foster.
But my favorite hypothesis is that repeatedly encountering the need for particular information sends a powerful signal to your memory system: it indicated that the information is likely to be important across contexts and time periods. It's like telling your central library that a book should be stored in the main stacks, not in the auxiliary library — somewhere handy for quick access, because you might just need it again soon.
Sadly, our mental librarians aren't always perfect. So knowing how to design courses — and how to structure our own study habits — to make their jobs a little smoother is all the more important.
You can keep up with more of what Tania Lombrozo is thinking on Twitter: @TaniaLombrozo
Sam Reinders is a photojournalist born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. She was 13 when Nelson Mandela was freed from prison. Following the days after his death, Reinders walked the streets of her home town and sent us this personal photo essay.
Karla Truter, age 3, holds up a portrait of Mandela outside the City Hall.The City Hall here is where Mandela gave his first speech as a free man, and the square is the one place in the city most associated with him.
By now you've heard the news. Spread by under sea cable, satellites high above us - in the wind that is howling in Cape Town as I write these words. Madiba is dead.
Iconic images are filling the airwaves: Grainy archive footage of Mandela in his boxing gloves, that triumphant fist-raised-to-the-sky triumphant walk from prison, the photo with Bill Clinton next to him, looking out from the bars that were once his prison cell.
You've seen the outpouring of tears and grief as people say goodbye to the legendary leader. Chanting, singing, dancing, toy-toyi'ing - from outside his home in Johannesberg and in the streets of Soweto. The Dali Lama has paid tribute - as has Barack Obama. The Vatican has shared its condolences, as have celebrities from across the globe. Madiba is trending.
The grief has gone viral.
But what now? I knew this day would come. Everyone did. It took me a while to realize what I was grappling with. I'm a journalist by profession. I tell stories with my camera. But unexpectedly that identity I've always clung to seems to have crumbled. Today I'm not a journalist. I don't want to be. I'm a citizen.And what I show you here comes from Sam the citizen, not Sam the journalist. Personal feelings captured with my camera. No press pass between me and how I feel.
One of my clearest memories as a child was spending the day at home watching Mandela's release from jail on TV. Our domestic worker, Sylvia, sat with my father on the couch sharing a bottle of champagne. I remember thinking this odd. At the time she was one of the only people of color I knew. I went to Drakenstein Prison for the first time, today. The "Long Walk to Freedom" statue - unveiled in 2008 on Mandela's birthday - now stands at the entrance. Madiba's fist is raised - as it was on my television screen so may years ago.
Dawn outside the City Hall on Cape Town's Grand Parade. This is where Mandela gave his first speech as a free man - and the one place in the city most associated with him.
St. George's Cathedral is the city's official church. Desmond Tutu, when he was Archbishop, preached from the altar. Mandela worshiped here as president, and it is here that people have come to pray - for him, for themselves, for the future. The cathedral is cavernous, and was eerily empty when I stopped by.
In Cape Town the emotion has a more somber tone than cities like Johannesburg. While people slowly move around the city to sign a condolence book, or leave flowers, they aren't gathering in huge masses like those in and around Mandela's childhood home.
One of the very first tributes left at City Hall in the early hours of the morning after Mandela's passing. Lucky Star Pilchards were one of Mandela's favorite foods. He often joked that he preferred very simple food and is rumored to have continued eating the same meals he ate in jail, long after his release.
I was struck by the number of people bringing their young children to pay their respects. While most of them are too young to really understand. It may be something that years from now they'll recollect.
Out of the hundreds of tributes I read this one really tugged a heartstring. It was left outside Drakenstein Prison, where Mandela was moved after leaving Robben Island. It reads: "Nelson Mandela was a good man. South Africa was very wrong to put him in jail for 27 years just because he did the right thing. Love Gerrie."
Lela, 5 months old, is held by her mother who dressed her up for the occasion. "One day I'll explain this all to her."
Mandela is most often referred to by his clan name - Madiba - or as "Tata," which means father in Xhosa, his tribal language.
A young boy writes a goodbye message at an exhibition for Mandela in Cape Town's Civic Center. The exhibition opened earlier this year in celebration of Mandela's 95th birthday.
A mural of Mandela - a recurring motif - in Woodstock, a Cape Town suburb.
A lady silently mourns Mandela's passing.
Johnny Clegg's song "Asimbonanga" is on repeat - both at the City Hall and in my head - as I drive around the city.
"Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey
Look across the island into the bay
We are all islands till comes the day
We cross the burning water"
I head to Signal Hill for a view of Robben Island. This is the place I most associate with the man who my parents told me about when I was little. I lived in the suburb across the bay from the island where Mandela was imprisoned for so many years. It was a dot I could see from the beach. I struggled as a child to imagine it as a prison. From where I could see it it looked so beautiful. And prisons are not supposed to be pretty.
I never got the chance to photograph Mandela. That is something I'll regret forever.
Russian President Vladimir Putin dissolved one of the country's official news agencies and an international radio broadcaster on Monday, setting up a new organization to be run by a news anchor known for his ultra-conservative views.
RIA Novosti, the news agency, and Voice of Russia, the broadcaster, will be absorbed by a new entity, Russia Today.
Jessica Golloher is reporting on the story for our Newscast unit:
"A decree published on the Kremlin's website announced Dmitry Kiselyov's appointment as the head of Russia Today, Replacing RIA Novosti in a major overhaul of the state news agency. The news anchor is known for holding controversial views; over the summer, Kiselyov said he believed that the organs of homosexuals are not fit for transplants, maintaining they should be burned. Putin holds the power to appoint and dismiss the head of the country's news agency. The announcement effectively transfers all property of RIA Novosti to Russia Today."
In a story on its own demise, RIA Novosti called the move "the latest in a series of shifts in Russia's news landscape, which appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector."
Sergei Ivanov, the head of the presidential administration, said the both the changes were about saving money and making state media more effective.
"Russia has its own independent politics and strongly defends its national interests," he said. "It's difficult to explain this to the world but we can do this, and we must do this."
RIA Novosti has a storied past. It was established in 1941, two days after Nazi Germany invaded what was then the Soviet Union. At the time, the news agency was called the Soviet Information Bureau. It now has reporters in more than 45 countries and provides news in 14 languages.
The New York Times notes that while RIA Novosti "continued to serve as an official news agency, its reporting has earned greater respect for balance and a diversity of viewpoints" — a position that was criticized by some Russians.
"Russian media outlets speculated that the reshuffle was aimed at RIA Novosti's former director, Svetlana Mironyuk, who presided over the company's more objective coverage of massive anti-Putin protests sparked by a fraud-tainted parliamentary vote in 2011. While Mironyuk was said to be backed by some liberal figures in the Kremlin, that reportage received a more critical reception among its hawkish wing."
As NPR's Corey Flintoff said last year, independent journalists in Russia have been subjected to a crackdown.
You know what they say: It's all fun and games until somebody gets hurt.
That was certainly the case Friday on the campus of the University of Oregon, where football players planned a big snowball fight to celebrate the season's first, big snowfall.
It was all fun until students started to aggressively pelt the car of retired professor Sherwin Simmons. At one point, when Simmons steps out of the car to confront the crowd, one young man dumps a bunch of snow on his lap.
Since The Daily Emerald, a student-run news organization at the school, put out a video of the incident, it has been watched 2.2 million times and the school released a statement saying the University of Oregon Police Department is investigating.
"Police hope to determine the identities of those who were throwing snowballs, whether they are UO students and whether their actions constitute a criminal act," the school's Dean of Students Paul Shang said in a statement. "The University of Oregon takes the conduct of its students seriously. Consequences are clear for those whose actions reflect poorly upon the university or violate its standards for student behavior."
Offensive lineman Andre Yruretagoyena tweeted: "Embarrassed by the video I just watched. That's not all of us, sending the sincerest apologies."
The Emerald reports, however, that Simmons, who described the young people as "out of control," will not press charges.
He told the paper: "I have confidence that the reaction of the university given what has happened will be proportional. It will consider these young people and their futures and will also, I hope, suggest to them that they need to rethink behavior like that."
The meat on your dinner table probably didn't come from a happy little cow that lived a wondrous life out on rolling green hills. It probably also wasn't produced by a robot animal killer hired by an evil cabal of monocle-wearing industrialists.
Truth is, the meat industry is complicated, and it's impossible to understand without a whole lot of context. That's where Maureen Ogle comes in. She's a historian and the author of In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History Of Carnivore America.
Ogle's book examines the pipeline that meat takes today from field to table by trying to understand its roots. She starts all the way back in Colonial America, when settlers found so much available land that they were able to raise livestock they could never have afforded in Europe. Meat, Ogle writes, became a status symbol in early America.
Much has been made of the ugly details of the modern meat industry, from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle to Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma to various exposes and articles on slaughterhouses. The industry's roots, though, stretch back more than a century, when Americans left their farms for the big cities, leaving a vast urban population with a cash income and a hankering for meat.
"As more people moved to cities, the gap between the amount of livestock and meat that could be produced constantly lagged the demand on the part of consumers," Ogle told me in a recent interview.
Ogle ties the rise of gigantic meat companies and industrial meatpacking facilities not to post-World War II subsidies and corporate takeovers, but to the rise of cities. Those urbanites wanted meat — and they wanted it cheap.
"As a result, farmers, and urban voters, and the USDA, and politicians all agreed that farming in the United States needed to be much more efficient and needed to run more like a factory than what many people think a farm should be like," Ogle says. All "in order to reduce farmers' production costs and therefore, keep the cost of food down."
The demand for vast quantities of meat at cheap prices led to meat producers pushing for efficiency and squeezing every bit of profit from every animal. That meant the rise of giant feedlots fattening animals on corn feed, and huge meatpackers processing animals at factory speed and scale. The industrial meat system, Ogle argues, is a supply and demand problem.
"As long as the demand is there, we're going to continue to have these very large industrial systems, because that's the only way to satisfy demand," Ogle says. "You're not going to satisfy demand with small farmers."
It's that kind of thinking that has opened Ogle up to frequent criticism on social media since the book was published on Nov. 12. In the introduction to the book, Ogle writes, "The battles over production and consumption of meat are nearly as ferocious as those over gays, gun control and marriage." Now, Ogle is in the middle of vicious debates on the efficacy of the way meat is raised and processed. (Check the comments under recent interviews with WNYC's "The Takeaway" and Salon.)
Ogle has been charged with being a shill for big industry and has been accused of being anti-small farmer. But the book doesn't shy away from the realities of the modern meatpacking industry and presents it in realistic detail. And she says she doesn't want to pick a side, but merely present a nuanced look at an important issue that has been turned into political soundbites.
Ultimately, Ogle finds there is a fundamental disconnect in the way many of us view meat. We want it, want it cheaply, we want it made in a place where we don't have to deal with the sights and sounds of slaughtering animals and we don't want it to come from factory farms. Something, Ogle says, has to give.