Self-Quizzing: The Key to Learning Better

Have you ever wondered if there's a more effective way to cram for a test than highlighting and rereading every chapter in your textbooks? A recent study says there is.

Get ready to be brilliant. Really. You are about to discover a secret that will help you learn more effectively.

In a study published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, John Dunlosky and his colleagues examined the effectiveness of various learning techniques. They included a variety of methods (see below) everyone has used at one time or another. What they found will be surprising to most people, but will make sense once you think about it.

The two most effective techniques were practice testing (asking yourself questions about what you studied) and distributed practice (studying in relatively small segments over a period of time). The other techniques varied in effectiveness from moderate to low. Curiously, recent surveys cited by the authors indicate that students seem to favor rereading and highlighting, two strategies that have relatively low utility.

The effectiveness of distributed practice has been known for quite some time. William James, a pioneer in modern psychology, made the case for it in 1901. And in the hierarchy of demonstrating learning, recall (the ability to remember information) is superior to recognition (knowing the correct answer when you see it) or relearning (how quickly you can learn something you once knew but kind of forgot).

If you have something to learn or remember, distributed practice and self-quizzing will be helpful. Any method that helps us learn better is worthwhile.

Here are the 10 techniques examined in the study:

  1. Elaborative interrogation (generating an explanation for why an explicitly stated fact or concept is true).
  2. Self-explanation (explaining how new information is related to known information, or explaining steps taken during problem solving).
  3. Summarization (writing summaries [of various lengths] of to-be-learned texts).
  4. Highlighting/underlining (marking potentially important portions of to-be-learned materials while reading).
  5. Keyword mnemonic (using keywords and mental imagery to associate verbal materials).
  6. Imagery for text (attempting to form mental images of text materials while reading or listening).
  7. Rereading (restudying text material again after an initial reading).
  8. Practice testing (self-testing or taking practice tests over to-be-learned material)
  9. Distributed practice (implementing a schedule of practice that spreads out study activities over time).
  10. Interleaved practice (implementing a schedule of practice that mixes different kinds of problems, or a schedule of study that mixes different kinds of material, within a single study session).

Have you ever tried practice testing or distributed practice? Have any of the other above techniques worked best for you?

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now


About Michael Milone, PhD

Michael Milone, PhD

Dr. Michael Milone is a nationally recognized research psychologist and award-winning educational writer. He earned a PhD in 1978 from The Ohio State University and has served in an adjunct capacity at Ohio State, the University of Arizona, Gallaudet University, and New Mexico State University. He has taught in regular and special education programs at all levels, holds a Master of Arts degree from Gallaudet University, and is fluent in American Sign Language. He served on the board of directors of the Association of Educational Publishers, was a member of the Literacy Assessment Committee of the International Reading Association, and is a past chair of the Technology and Literacy Committee of the International Reading Association. He's contributed to both and Technology & Learning magazine. He currently serves on the Research Advisory Board of Renaissance Learning the Education Advisory Team of Bluenose Edutainment, and the Albert J. Harris Award Committee of the International Reading Association. His publications include two novels, several standardized tests, hundreds of articles, and a puzzle called Diminish with both print and app versions. He has completed 33 marathons, two Ironman triathlons, and hundreds of other races, including the Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Kelly Nogueiro

Kelly Nogueiro


For me, CollegeXpress has given me a valuable tool to use with my students to explore colleges easily beyond objective data. It helps me find colleges for students that fit their needs and wants that aren’t quite so black and white. It's a wealth of knowledge, and the Type-A side of me loves all the lists and the fact that I know they're coming from folks who know what they're talking about. I share it with colleagues and students alike, and it's always well received.

Jeannie Borin, MEd

Jeannie Borin, MEd

President and Founder, College Connections

I frequently visit CollegeXpress to answer questions from students and parents. There are countless hot topics in admissions that need to be addressed. I enjoy reading what my colleagues post and gain additional insight from different perspectives.

Joan Franklin

Joan Franklin


I love this website and have been using it for years with my students. I originally bought products through Wintergreen Orchard House and appreciated having key facts at my fingertips when advising students. Your site is easy to access and offers a wide array of topics I need as a busy college counselor.

Lexie Knutson

Lexie Knutson

High School Class of 2021

This whole website has helped me overcome the attitude I had before. I was scared to even approach the thought of college because it was so much. I knew it wasn’t just a few easy steps, and I panicked mostly, instead of actually trying. Without realizing it, CollegeXpress did exactly what I usually do when I panic, which is take it one step at a time. With college I forget that because it’s more than just a small to-do list, but this website was really helpful and overall amazing. So thank you!

Elizabeth Stafford

Elizabeth Stafford

High School Class of 2021

As a UK student moving to California due to my dad's job in the military, when I first signed up for CollegeXpress a few months ago, the college process ahead seemed daunting and incredibly stressful. That all changed after I started to explore what this website had to offer. Not only was I helped by the vast array of resources available to me, but through being a CollegeXpress member, there have been so many more benefits. There have been emails with college tips—all of which I found incredibly helpful—as well as invitations to events and notifications of scholarships that'll make college possible for me. Overall, I'm very grateful to CollegeXpress for all of these things and more. Not only have they helped me grow my understanding of the college process, but they've also helped me to grow as a person, giving me new skills that I can take with me through life.

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Catawba College

Salisbury, NC

Texas Tech University

Lubbock, TX

DePaul University

Chicago, IL

Hofstra University

Hempstead, NY