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In the News

"Bridge Street" (WSYR-TV)

Jul 2, 2014
talked to Deborah Justice, the Carole and Alvin I. Schragis Faculty Fellow in the Department of Art and Music Histories, about her work with "media-savvy evangelicalism."
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WRVO Public Media

Jul 2, 2014
spoke with Ben Bradley, professor of philosophy, about his new Immortality Project, involving the University of California, Riverside. The grant enables him to examine death, rational emotion, and meaningfulness.
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The Huffington Post

Jun 18, 2014
featured a blog post written by Associate Dean for College Relations Stephen Secora explaining why engagement is key to turning admitted students into enrolled students.
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The Post Standard

Jun 13, 2014
spoke with Professor David Althoff about the upcoming Central New York mosquito season.
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MedPageToday

Jun 2, 2014
discussed hearing loss among and its impact on veterans with Joe Pellegrino,the Gebbie Hearing Clinic director.
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News Channel 9's Bridge Street

Jun 2, 2014
featured a segment about the 40th anniversary celebration of the Gebbie Clinic.
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CNY Central

Jun 2, 2014
spoke with African American Studies Professor Herb Ruffin about the passing of Maya Angelou.
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Time Warner Cable News

May 27, 2014
visited the Gebbie Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic to discuss how the clinic is helping adults and children suffering from speech disorders.
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WRVO Public Media

May 26, 2014
featured a story about the Gebbie Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary with the grand opening of new facilities on Friday, May 30.
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WRVO Public Media

May 12, 2014
ran a story focusing on how Syracuse University's Climate Change Garden is allowing faculty and students to study the effects of climate change right here in Central New York.
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Time Warner Cable News

May 7, 2014
featured a story about the Climate Change Garden, which is housed in Syracuse University's College of Arts and Sciences.
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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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