Multiple-choice tests stabilize access to marginal knowledge.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Marginal knowledge refers to knowledge that is stored in memory, but is not accessible at a given moment. For example, one might struggle to remember who wrote The Call of the Wild, even if that knowledge is stored in memory. Knowing how best to stabilize access to marginal knowledge is important, given that new learning often requires accessing and building on prior knowledge. While even a single opportunity to restudy marginal knowledge boosts its later accessibility (Berger, Hall, & Bahrick, 1999), in many situations explicit relearning opportunities are not available. Our question is whether multiple-choice tests (which by definition expose the learner to the correct answers) can also serve this function and, if so, how testing compares to restudying given that tests can be particularly powerful learning devices (Roediger & Karpicke, 2006). In four experiments, we found that multiple-choice testing had the power to stabilize access to marginal knowledge, and to do so for at least up to a week. Importantly, such tests did not need to be paired with feedback, although testing was no more powerful than studying. Overall, the results support the idea that one's knowledge base is unstable, with individual pieces of information coming in and out of reach. The present findings have implications for a key educational challenge: ensuring that students have continuing access to information they have learned.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Cantor, AD; Eslick, AN; Marsh, EJ; Bjork, RA; Bjork, EL

Published Date

  • February 2015

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 43 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 193 - 205

PubMed ID

  • 25201690

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1532-5946

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0090-502X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.3758/s13421-014-0462-6


  • eng