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Context

In health professions education, tests have traditionally been used to assess the skills and knowledge of learners. More recently, research in psychology and education has shown that tests can also be used to enhance student memory; a phenomenon called the ‘testing effect’. Much of the research in this domain has focused on enhancing rote memory of simple facts, and not on the deeper comprehension and application of complex theoretical knowledge necessary to diagnose and manage patients. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of testing on students' comprehension of the basic science mechanisms and diagnostic accuracy.

Methods

Undergraduate dental and dental hygiene students (= 112) were taught the radiographic features and pathophysiology underlying four intrabony abnormalities. Participants were divided into two groups: the test-enhanced (TE) condition and the study (ST) condition. Following the learning phase, the TE condition group completed an interventional test that tested the basic science mechanisms and the ST condition group was given additional study passages without being tested. Participants in both groups then completed a diagnostic test and a memory test immediately after the learning phase and 1 week later.

Results

A main effect of testing condition was found. The participants in the TE condition group outperformed those in the ST condition group on immediate and delayed testing. Unlike the diagnostic test, the memory test showed no difference between the groups.

Conclusion

The inclusion of the basic science test appears to have improved the students' understanding of the underlying disease mechanisms learned and also improved their performance on a test of diagnostic accuracy.