Relation of Early Testing and Incentive on Quiz Performance in Introductory Psychology: An Archival Analysis

By McGuire, Michael J.; MacDonald, Pamelyn M. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, June 2009 | Go to article overview

Relation of Early Testing and Incentive on Quiz Performance in Introductory Psychology: An Archival Analysis


McGuire, Michael J., MacDonald, Pamelyn M., Journal of Instructional Psychology


Students should learn best by repeating a cycle of studying, testing, and feedback, all of which are components of "mastery learning." We performed an archival analysis to determine the relation between taking quizzes early and quiz performance in a "mastery learning" context. Also investigated was whether extra credit resulted in early testing and improved scores on the quizzes. Results, based on data from 270 college students enrolled in 10 sections of Introductory Psychology, suggested that testing sooner is associated with better quiz performance. Providing extra credit resulted in a larger percentage of attempts that occurred during the first 5 days of quizzing but did not result in overall better quiz performance compared to sections not offering extra credit.

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According to a mastery instructional framework, people learn best by repeating a cycle of studying, testing, and feedback. This format benefits both the student who needs more time and effort to learn, and the student who can grasp concepts quickly and easily. In this format, students can commit the amount of time and effort necessary to achieve the grade that they desire. Yet, when one implements a curriculum fostering a mastery approach in higher education, guidelines for specific logistics are unclear. To address this issue, we investigated two major questions related to how well students use a mastery approach to learning information in sections of Introductory Psychology courses. First, we were interested in the degree to which attempting quizzes (number of attempts and how soon quizzes were attempted) correlated with quiz outcomes. Next, we were interested in whether providing an incentive for testing early would prove to be useful. Addressing these questions should be helpful to those employing a "mastery" approach or considering revamping a "mastery" approach to testing Introductory Psychology students.

Brief History of Mastery Learning

In 1963, John Carroll proposed that student aptitude was not the result of intelligence, but rather that some students needed more time to learn a subject than did others. He proposed a concept he called "degree of learning," which was a function of time spent divided by the time needed to master a subject. According to Carroll, "time spent" was a direct result of perseverance and opportunity to learn, whereas "time needed" involved learning rate, quality of instruction and the ability to understand instructions. From Carroll's basic assumptions, researchers developed two Mastery Learning programs: (a) Bloom's (1968) Learning for Mastery (LFM) and (b) Keller's (1968) Personalized System of Instruction (PSI).

Bloom (1968) reported that time actively engaged in studying was a critical variable involved in learning a subject. In Bloom's model, students take tests repeatedly, with variable time and testing, in order to demonstrate achievement levels on assessment tools, such as exams. The first instance of assessment could then serve as a diagnostic tool and identify areas that needed restudy. Bloom (1974) reviewed many studies of various types of LFM across different disciplines and reported that approximately 80% of students achieved at the same level with LFM procedures what only about 20% of students achieved with more conventional methods of instruction and testing.

Keller's (1968) Personalized System of Instruction (PSI) was similar to LFM in that students could take the same exam multiple times to reach a criterion level. In PSI, instructors divide program learning, mostly written materials, into short units. Thus, students move through the materials at their own pace and take exams at the end of each unit.

Modern mastery learning programs, including the program that is the focus of the present study, often employ a combination of LFM and PSI techniques. Instructors teaching Introductory Psychology at our school arrange material into small units of information (PSI) and provide feedback following each attempt at a quiz (LFM). …

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