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Research School Network: Prequestioning Prequestioning can be an effective pedagogical strategy to support learning


Prequestioning can be an effective pedagogical strategy to support learning

by Durrington Research School
on the

Whilst the well-documented positive effects of retrieval practice have quite rightly received a lot of attention in recent years, prequestioning seems to have taken its place as the lesser cousin. Whilst the evidence-base is certainly not yet as secure as that for retrieval practice, this pedagogical strategy seems to have lots of potential, both in terms of aiding students’ long-term memory as well as reducing the effects of overconfidence and thus making pupils more responsive to finding out what they do not already know.

A significant study into the effects of prequestioning was conducted by Carpenter and Toftness in 2017. In this study, the participants all watched three 2.5 minute long video excerpts on a lecture about the history of Easter Island. The participants were divided into two groups. The test group were asked two short-answer questions about Easter Island before watching the video clips whereas the control group just watched the videos. Unsurprisingly, the control group’s answers were less than 5% accurate. After watching the videos, both groups took a final test which included the six prequestions plus six questions that were new to all participants.

Results showed that the test group performed 15% higher on the questions that were prequestioned and overall 19% better than the control group. However, what is really interesting is what happened with the non-prequestioned questions. Previous research has indicated a decrease in performance with these questions for participants who have answered prequestions. One reason for this might be that the material that followed the prequestions were self-paced reading tasks. Consequently, when participants were left to read this material by themselves they were paying more attention to finding the answers to the prequestions and less attention to everything else, perhaps skipping the rest of the reading altogether. This is where the use of video becomes key as this means that participants do not have the option to omit parts of the material. Accordingly, in this study where video was used the test group who answered prequestions performed 12% higher on non-prequestioned questions. This may also be due to prequestioning diluting the detrimental affect of overconfidence as prequestioning gives immediate feedback to the participant about what they do not know. Retrieval practice does the same, of course, but with prequestioning the participants are then in a position to easily respond to that feedback by using the subsequent lesson material to fill the gaps.

There are limitations to this study that are important to keep in mind. Foremost is the fact that it was carried out in a classroom study and not authentic lessons. Indeed, while there were some benefits to prequestions a few days later, those benefits were not evident a few months later. Additionally, the video excerpts used were very brief and the test was immediately afterwards, which is not representative of a real classroom. However, that does not mean to say there are not some useful nuggets we can glean from this research.

Implications for the Classroom

Although it can feel counterintuitive to ask pupils questions on subject material they have not yet been taught, the strategy can increase pupils encoding of the to-be-learned material.

To gain the most benefit from prequestioning, teachers should control the pace of content delivery to ensure that all content is attended to by pupils. Thus, prequestioning would probably work best in lessons that use video or PowerPoint rather than self-directed reading.

Research is still ongoing about the effects of prequestioning on long-term memory so it is probably best to combine this with other proven memory strategies such as retrieval practice and spaced practice.

Fran Haynes

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