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Close but here's a cigar anyway

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The value of reading material and then taking a quiz to promote memory is tried and true and recent research in the area supports the practice.

If a person takes a practice test and is unfamiliar with the content, they risk making guesses that are nowhere near the right answer. This could make it harder for them to learn the correct information later.

When a person makes a mistake while learning, it improves their memory for the right information, but only if the error is close to the correct answer,

Mistakes that are a 'near miss' can help a person learn information better than if no errors were made at all. These types of errors can serve as a continuum to remembering the right answer.

Having published on the topic in the journal, Memory, Dr Nicole Anderson, senior scientist at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute said; “…if the error made is a wild guess and out in left field, then a person does not learn the correct information as easily."

She investigated the process using Spanish language learning. Thirty-two young adults with no Spanish background had to guess the English definition of Spanish words that either looked like an English word with a similar meaning (such as careera, which means degree) or looked like an English word, but had a different meaning (such as carpeta, which resembles carpet, but means folder).

Participants were shown the Spanish words and asked to guess its meaning. Then, they were briefly shown the correct translation, before being shown another Spanish word. After repeating this process with 16 Spanish words, they had a short break before being tested on their memory of the translations.

The participants were better able to remember the correct translations for Spanish words that were similar to the English word and had greater difficulty recalling the meaning for words that looked misleading.

“Even if a person makes a mistake while testing themselves, as long as their error is close to the right answer, they're more likely to remember the right information,” Dr Anderson said.


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