Assessment of Differential Learning by Topic in Introductory Psychology



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Introductory psychology students typically perform better on posttests compared to pretests; however, not all topics are learned equally well. To measure how much information students learned overall and to determine whether the level of knowledge gained differed by topic, 932 undergraduates enrolled in introductory psychology completed a multiple-choice pretest-posttest assessment. The tests included questions about 11 topics typically taught in introductory psychology. Student-, instructor-, and assessment-related variables that could affect learning were also examined. As expected, posttest scores were significantly higher than pretest scores. Importantly, there were significant differences among topics in terms of posttest scores as well as in the level of improvement. Students were most likely to answer posttest questions correctly about introduction and research methods, memory, and development, and least likely to answer questions correctly about physiological psychology. Scores improved on 9 of the 11 topics, with the greatest improvement for memory, physiological psychology, and sensation and perception. No improvement occurred for cognition and development. Regarding variables that could potentially affect learning, a significant effect for type of final exam, type of credit granted, and instructor was found. This is the first time that a pretest-posttest design has been used to demonstrate differential learning of topics in introductory psychology. Results may inform instructors' course planning regarding time allotted and techniques used to facilitate student learning.