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In the News

"The Colbert Report"

Dec 18, 2014
included George Saunders G'88, professor of English, in its star-studded series finale. Saunders was a popular guest on the show.
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The Daily Mail (U.K.)

Dec 17, 2014
featured research by Susan Parks, assistant professor of biology, about how whales communicate. The story was picked up by other international outlets, including Phys.org, Nature World News, The Hindu, and India.com.
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Philly.com

Dec 16, 2014
interviewed Jason Wiles, assistant professor of biology, about "Bill Nye the Science Guy."
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WRVO Public Media

Dec 11, 2014
spoke with Afton Kapuscinski G'12, director of the Psychological Services Center, about seasonal affective disorder.
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Public Broadcasting System

Dec 10, 2014
is airing a discussion between Gustav Niebuhr, associate professor of religion and media at Syracuse; and Elaine Pagels, the Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion at Princeton University. The interview is part of PBS' "Great Conversation" series.
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Variety.com

Dec 10, 2014
interviewed Stephen C. Meyer, associate professor of music history and cultures, about the ongoing popularity of "lavish symphonic" soundtracks.
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"Bridge Street" (WSYR-TV)

Dec 4, 2014
featured a performance by members of the Syracuse University Brass Ensemble (SUBE), as well as a conversation with James T. Spencer, SUBE music director and FNSSI executive director. The clip was in support of "Holidays at Hendricks."
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CNY Central

Nov 14, 2014
spoke with Steve Secora, Associate Dean of College Relations for the College of Arts and Sciences about why sophomore year is the best time for high school students to begin the college search process.
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Syracuse New Times

Nov 13, 2014
featured a series of photos from La Casita Cultural Center’s recent Two to Tango event.
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Time Warner Cable News

Nov 12, 2014
spoke with Kristen Kennedy of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders about hearing loss among veterans
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The New York Times

Oct 9, 2014
spoke with Jason Fridley, associate professor of biology, about the mystery of invasive species.
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Switching subject categories could improve test scores

New research on 'output interference' is published in Psychological Science

Apr 23, 2012 | Article by: Judy Holmes

Students studying in Carnegie Library

Students study in Syracuse University's Carnegie library


Students of all ages could improve their test scores if the category of information changed abruptly midway through the test, according to a new study on memory by researchers from Syracuse University, the University of South Florida, and Indiana University. The study was recently published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The study was conducted by Amy Criss, assistant professor of psychology in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences; her research associate Kenneth Malmberg of the University of South Florida, the corresponding author of the study; and colleagues from Indiana University. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research funded the study.

The researchers looked at the question of “output interference” and how it can be minimized when people are trying to recall information or answer a series of questions over a relatively long period of time, such as in standardized testing.  Output interference is a phenomenon that causes a decrease in memory accuracy as the number of questions in a particular subject area increases. 

“The simple act of testing harms memory,” Criss says. “Previous studies have shown that people are more accurate in their responses to questions at the beginning of a test than they are at the end of a test.  This is called output interference. Our study demonstrates how to minimize the effects of output interference.”

The researchers found that simply changing the subject matter of the questions increases accuracy on longer tests.  In the study, test subjects were asked to memorize word sets from different categories, such as animal and geographic terms, or countries and professions. The testers were then split into three groups, each of which responded to a series of 150 questions.  The tests included 75 terms from each word set.

The first group of testers responded to questions in which the terms were randomly intermixed. A second group responded to 75 questions about one category followed by 75 questions from the second category. The third group responded to alternating blocks of five questions about each category.

The second group out performed its counterparts on the test. “While accuracy fell off as the test subjects neared the end of the first category of terms, the accuracy rebounded when the questions switched to the second category of terms,” Criss says. “The study demonstrates that memory improves when categories of information people are asked to remember change.”

The results have implications for the way in which standardized and comprehensive tests are created, Criss says. “You don’t want to place a lot of the same information into one section of the test. Accuracy will increase by changing the subject matter of the questions.”

The results also have implications for student study habits. “While it’s natural for students to complete one subject before moving on to the next, if you look at the data, students may have better results if they work on one subject for a little while, move to something completely different and then go back to the first subject,” Criss says.

Link to the study, “Overcoming the Negative Consequences of Interference from Recognition Memory Testing,” in the Psychological Science.
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Contact Information

Judy Holmes
jlholmes@syr.edu
315-443-8085

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