This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 06 table of contents.

Studying in a Way that Resembles the Test

Craik and Lockhart (1972) suggested the term deep processing to describe the type of mental activity that improves memory. The idea was appealing because experiments showed that superficial processing such as maintenance rehearsal was relatively ineffective at improving memory. Deep processing such as reflecting thoughtfully about something is usually good for learning.

What was the "depth of processing" concept and how did it run into trouble?

The concept of deep processing ran into trouble when researchers tried to specify exactly what it meant. As noted in Chapter 1 a psychological construct is validated or given substance by finding some independent way to measure the same thing. Deep processing was defined as "better processing" or "processing which produced better memory," but there was no independent way to measure deep processing; it was simply "whatever worked."

Indeed, it turned out that different types of processing produced benefits for different tasks. If subjects needed to remember the physical appearance of a word, then paying attention to the shape of the letters was important. If subjects needed to recall the sound of a word, then paying attention to soundwas most important, and so forth.

The best processing, in short, is the processing most helpful and appropriate for a particular task. This is called task appropriate processing: processing that is appropriate to the task at hand.

How can students engage in task-appropriate processing?

What if your task is to study for a quiz? What is the deepest or best form of processing? It depends on the quiz and what it asks you to do. If the quiz requires you to answer questions, then you should practice answering questions. If you are preparing for an essay test, you should practice writing essays. If you are preparing to answer story problems, you should prepare by practicing on story problems.

Students quickly "psych out" the way a teacher writes tests. This affects how they study. A similar point was made earlier in the section on recognition memory. If a teacher gives multiple choice tests which require only the recognition of vocabulary words, some students will familiarize themselves with vocabulary from the chapter and little else. If questions require deep comprehension of the material, students are more likely to strive for deep comprehension. Once they learn what to expect on a test, most students will naturally adopt a strategy of task appropriate processing.


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