Active Learning the UWorld Way

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At UWorld, we pride ourselves on being the standard of excellence when it comes to the creation of premium online learning tools and high-stakes exam preparation solutions. Whether the objective is to achieve your max score on an entrance exam or obtain a license or certification, we apply the same approach to developing our products. We begin with the end in mind, which is the test taker’s success and mastery of the concepts tested. Then we employ a meticulous process to develop comprehensive, high-quality exam prep content testing high-yield concepts. We refer to this process as The UWorld Difference. At the core of what makes UWorld different is, in fact, our active-learning method. 

What Is the Active-Learning Method?

Our active-learning method is a study approach designed to help examinees master the concepts tested on high-stakes exams. As the name suggests, this study approach requires active participation by the student, as opposed to passive learning exercises such as sitting through classroom or live lectures. Multiple studies have established empirical data that reinforces the merits of this study method. According to a study on learning-centered approaches to education, students learn more when they participate in the process of learning. The Neuroscience of Active Learning suggests that active teaching styles may lead to improved student outcomes and Cornell University outlines some compelling reasons to use active learning

At UWorld, we believe that by using the active-learning method in designing our exam prep products, we enable students to apply practical knowledge to succeed in their exams and demonstrate a readiness to begin practicing in their corresponding fields of study competently. We are further convinced that this active-learning approach maximizes engagement, eliminates cramming, and prepares students and professionals for success, not just in their exams, but also in their careers.

How Does Active Learning Work?

1. Learn by Doing

Active learning centers on the principle that students learn by doing. Practice and repetition enable students to master the concepts tested and retain the information. That’s why each UWorld question bank (QBank) features a large volume of questions from which students can create unlimited online practice tests that mimic the real exam. Also, our subject matter experts write our content at or above exam-level difficulty so students can practice challenging questions over and over again, boosting their readiness on exam day. And, by simulating the real test in exam-like conditions, students build the required stamina and confidence as they become more familiar with the experience and know what to expect when test day arrives.

2. Focused Learning

Another characteristic of the active-learning method is focused learning. Many students struggle with staying organized or keeping up with a study plan over several months. This conflict occurs because they have a hard time deciphering which subjects to focus on and find themselves caught up deliberating how much is enough. The problem compounds when students attempt to use too many study materials or prep courses, some of which may be unnecessary. At UWorld, we design our QBanks to optimize efficiency. Customizable practice tests, paired with immediate performance metrics, allow students to control their study plans. By focusing on the most relevant topics and targeting their weaker subjects, students can study more efficiently without the risk of burning out.

3. Simplified Learning

The merits of our active-learning method aren’t complete without simplified learning. The exams for which we help prepare students are sophisticated and rigorous, requiring hundreds of hours worth of study time. That’s why in designing our exam prep products, we focus on simplifying the learning experience. Our in-depth, yet still concise, explanations, and illustrations make difficult concepts easy to understand while also increasing retention and comprehension. Our explanations for both correct and incorrect answer choices give students a thorough understanding of critical underlying concepts and minimize the need for memorization. Our reviews also teach students the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in their high-stakes exams. Ultimately, our goal for students who use our products is concept mastery, not cramming. 

Why Active Learning?

1. Improves Student Outcomes

According to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Educational Innovation (CEI), the evidence supporting the use of active learning is well-established. The benefits of using active learning include improved critical thinking skills, increased retention and transfer of new information, increased motivation, improved interpersonal skills, and decreased course failure (Prince, 2004). The CEI cites an example where the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) examined the engagement experiences of hundreds of thousands of students from over 1,600 colleges and universities since 2000, with consistent data indicating that hands-on, integrative, and collaborative active-learning experiences lead to high levels of student achievement and personal development (Kuh, O’Donnell, and Schneider, 2017).

2. Visual Aids Support Learning

The cliché saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words” has stuck because, according to research, it’s true. One study suggests that the use of visual aids in education leads to an enhanced learning process. Another study found that after three days, a user retained 10-20 percent of written or spoken information versus almost 65 percent of visual information. According to Dr. Lynell Burmark, an education consultant and author on visual literacy, “…unless our words, concepts, ideas are hooked onto an image, they will go in one ear, sail through the brain, and go out the other ear. Words are processed by our short-term memory where we can only retain about seven bits of information… Images, on the other hand, go directly into long-term memory where they are indelibly etched” (Visual Literacy: Learn to See, See to Learn 1st Edition). 

We have adopted that notion and applied it to our content development priorities. That’s why we make sure each UWorld QBank features vivid, professionally produced images, illustrations, charts, graphs, diagrams, and more high-quality visuals (see examples below). These visuals, which we proudly produce in-house, complement our thorough answer explanations of both correct and incorrect answer choices so students can better grasp the concepts being tested.

3. Maximizes Retention

Active learning, which consists of practicing by doing, results in increased retention of information as compared to passive learning (see graphic below). That’s why our QBanks are built with a large volume of questions, to allow repetition. Students can choose from thousands of questions, organized by topics/subjects, to create unlimited customized tests to practice over and over again. Experience is the best teacher and by doing practice questions repeatedly with a look that mimics the exam interface and usability and reviewing detailed answer explanations, students better understand and remember the concepts. 

The Verdict

Following the logic supported by the empirical evidence of these research studies, all our exam prep products are designed with active-learning tools to imprint high yield concepts upon learners. This intentional design principle is to ensure that the experience of using any of our materials to prepare for a high-stakes exam is not reduced to simply relying on tips or gimmicks to game the exam, but rather mastering key concepts to benefit test-takers in their careers. Ultimately, we believe that, as observed in competitive sports, when preparing for a difficult, high-stakes exam, how you practice is how you’ll perform. So, by using active learning to practice thousands of questions over and over again in exam-like conditions, when you sit down on test day, the actual exam will feel like practice.

But don’t just take our word for it, give us a try and discover for yourself what it’s like to experience active learning the UWorld way.

Supporting Research in Active Learning

Cavenagh, S. (2016). The spark of learning: Energizing the college classroom with the science of emotion. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia Press. 

Freeman, S., Eddy, S.L., McDonough, M., Smith, M.K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M.P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (23) 8410-8415. 

Henning, J.A., Ballen, C. J., Molina, S. A., Cotner, S. (2019). Hidden identities shape student perceptions of active learning environments. Frontiers in Education 4, 129.

Kuh, G., O’Donnell, K., & Schneider, C. (2017). HIPs at ten. Change, 49(5), 8-16.

Owens, D., Sadler, T., Barlow, A., & Smith-Walters, C. (2017). Student motivation from and resistance to active learning rooted in essential science practices. Research in Science Education. 

Prince, M. (2004) Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education 93 (3) 223-231. 

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