Asking students questions before they learn something can benefit memory retention.
Shana Carpenter and Alexander Toftness (2017) examined the effect of prequestions by using video lectures. 85 students watched three 2.5 minutes segments of a lecture about the history of Easter Island. In one condition, they had students answer two short answer questions about Easter Island before watching the segment in which the answers were given so students had to guess and their accuracy was less than 5%.
In another condition, they just watched the videos and all the students answered the same 12 questions about the history of Easter Island. For the prequestion group, 6 of these questions were the prequestions they’d attempted to answer earlier, the other 6 questions were new and about different information. For the control group, this was the first time they’d encountered any of the questions.
In this post-video test, the prequestion group outperformed the control group, not only in correctly answering more of what had been the prequestions, but also by correctly answering more of the 6 new questions, the ones that they hadn’t seen before.
So what does this tell us? It is saying that prequestions can be used to encourage students to better attend to classroom material particularly when that material is in live or video format and not controlled by the student.
Or does it? Not according to Geller et al (2017) who provide new data on the effects of prequestions in classroom settings.
They found that asking a question at the beginning of class did not enhance learning of that information, relative to other information from class that was not prequestioned. Contrary to the lab results of Carpenter and Toftness (2017), Peeck, 1970; Little & Bjork, 2016; Pressley et al., 1990; Richland et al., 2009; Rickards et al., 1976), they say that prequestions do not produce consistent and reliable effects on learning in classroom environments:
Together, these results show that prequestions do not strongly and consistently affect performance in classroom settings in the way that they have been observed to affect performance in laboratory studies