The Relationship Between the Extent of Mental Model and Most Effective Timing of Feedback
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Tests do not only assess what was learned, but they also enhance learning itself. This testing effect is even stronger if the learner receives corrective feedback after a retrieval test. Research concerning the optimal timing of this feedback shows various results. The number of errors could be crucial. The more errors have been made, the more beneficial immediate feedback seems to be; the less errors have been made, the more beneficial delayed feedback seems to be. Initial test score is an indication for the extent of the learner’s mental model about a subject. Moreover, response certitude seems to be an indicator for the extent of mental model. The research question of this study is: to what extent does the size of one’s mental model of a subject determine when corrective feedback can be given best? In this quantitative experiment, 112 nine years old students wrote down concepts related to World War II. This subject was not taught at school. Then a test about the subject was presented. One group of students got corrective feedback immediately after answering a question, the other group received the feedback after another lesson. All students indicated how sure they were of each answer. The next day, all students did the same test again. A multiple regression analysis was conducted, with feedback condition and extent of mental model (i.e., number of concepts written down before the first test, initial test score and mean response certitude) as independent variables and learning gain as the dependent variable. The research question concerned the interaction effect of condition and extent of mental model. This interaction effect was nonsignificant. In this experiment, extent of mental model and optimal feedback timing were not related. Possibly, this can be explained as follows. Although extent of mental model differed a lot amongst students, all had some knowledge about the subject. Possibly, the crucial question is whether an intrinsically right answer to a test item exists or not. If students know that test items are real, they will try to retrieve the answer from long term memory. If they know that the correct answers cannot be known beforehand, taking a test is initial learning, whereby new information should be processed via the working memory. In such cases, immediate feedback might contribute to this initial processing, which could explain better results after immediate feedback in such experiments.