Most people associate pop quizzes with a pit in the stomach, but it could be we’ve been looking at them all wrong. Quizzes, when well-designed and well-timed, are highly beneficial for learning and retaining memory of what one has learned – a crucial element in ensuring your crew retains their safety toolbox training and remain safe on potentially hazardous job sites.

Cognitively, taking a quiz – calling up information from memory – tends to make information more “sticky” in our brains, and easier to access in the future. Quizzes are known in the world of education as “retrieval practice,” which treats tests as not an assessment of what one has learned, but in itself an opportunity for learning. The tests are an intentional teaching tool for signaling to the brain that a piece of information is important enough to have to call up from memory – and in the case of protecting life, limb and property, it is.

As Cognitive Science Professor Jeffrey Karpicke told Smithsonian Magazine: “Our minds are sensitive to the likelihood that we’ll need knowledge at a future time, and if we retrieve a piece of information now, there’s a good chance we’ll need it again. The process of retrieving a memory alters that memory in anticipation of demands we may encounter in the future.”

Training quizzes aren’t just helpful tools — they may very well be crucial to preventing a loss of learned information. In the nineteenth century, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus developed what are known as the “learning” and “forgetting” curves. He proposed that 70% of learning is forgotten within 24 hours. After 30 days, it is expected that 90% of what has been learned will be forgotten.

Additional research bears out the fact that people who are regularly quizzed maintain their memory of the information longer. A 2008 study by Karpicke, for example, showed that students who quizzed themselves on vocabulary terms remembered 80 percent of the words later on, whereas those who merely repeatedly read them remembered only about a third.

Quizzes are also beneficial in that they serve as a benchmark for learning progress. By incorporating quizzes and tests into your learning schedules, you can see what training should take the most priority and what information is being retained.

This can have several advantages as it allows you to focus your training efforts on the information that is harder for staff to learn. If you’re using e-learning software, where training can be customized for the employee, every crew member can be given specific training tailored for them. This prevents generalized training routines where some staff are bored and their time is wasted.

A well-designed quiz that provides adequate time, reinforces key concepts, emphasizes the application of those concepts, and provides a way to review answers will maximize the value of safety training and provide for safer job sites all-around. Effective quizzes might even help with the bottom line — companies in the U.S. reportedly spend more than $160 billion every year on training, after all. If that training isn’t effective, that’s money down the drain.

So the next time you’re handed a pop quiz on safety training, consider it conditioning for your brain – and a way to keep that brain even safer on potentially dangerous job sites.