Adesope OO, Trevisan DA and Sundararajan N (2017) ‘Rethinking the use of tests: A meta-analysis of practice testing’, Review of Educational Research, 87(3):659-701.
This meta-analysis examines studies where low stakes practice tests were used to encourage retrieval of learning across many levels of education. The authors emphasise that students should be encouraged and taught how to use retrieval practice during self-directed learning activities, and teachers may incorporate retrieval practice into structured classroom activities. The analysis finds that:
- an overwhelming amount of evidence suggests that retrieval practice in the form of low stakes practice testing increases achievement
- the benefits of retrieval practice can be seen in many different educational settings (primary school, high school, tertiary education).
Agarwal P (2019) ‘Retrieval practice & Bloom’s taxonomy: Do students need fact knowledge before higher order learning?’, Journal of Educational Psychology, 111:189–209.
This paper is an individual study that explores the impact of different question types on student higher order learning. Three different experiments with middle school aged and higher education students were conducted to examine the optimal retrieval practice questions for enhancing higher order thinking. In the experiments, the author used a retrieval practice model with quizzing materials that used low order questions (questions that required students to show that they remembered and understood learning) and high order questions (questions that ask students to analyse, evaluate or create). The findings across the experiments show that quizzes comprised of both factual and higher order questions increased performance on higher order tests when compared to purely fact based or purely higher order quizzes.
Carpenter SK, Cepeda NJ, Rohrer D, Kang SHK and Pashler H (2012) ‘Using spacing to enhance diverse forms of learning: Review of recent research and implications for instruction’, Educational Psychology Review, 24(3):369.
This literature review examines the benefits of spaced study. The literature reviewed suggests that to promote long-term retention of knowledge, students should receive spaced re-exposure to previously learned information. The authors make three recommendations for using spaced practice:
- to incorporate a brief review of concepts that were learned several weeks earlier into each lesson
- homework assignments could be used to re-expose students to important information that they have learned previously
- teachers could give exams and quizzes that are cumulative.
These three recommendations are not mutually exclusive, and they are more likely to produce positive learning outcomes when used in conjunction with one another.
Cepeda NJ, Pashler H, Vul E, Wixted JT and Rohrer D (2006) ‘Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis’, Psychological Bulletin, 3:354-380.
This meta-analysis examines 184 studies focused on verbal memory tasks (for example, list recall, fact recall, paragraph recall). To be included in the meta-analysis, the studies needed to have two spaced learning opportunities for the content before testing. The results of the meta-analysis affirms that separating learning of content by at least one day, rather than concentrating all learning into one session, is useful for maximising long-term retention.
Cepeda NJ, Vul E, Rohrer D, Wixted JT and Pashler H (2008) ‘Spacing effects in learning: A temporal ridgeline of optimal retention’, Psychological Science, 19(11):1095-1102.
This seminal paper explores the evidence surrounding the optimal conditions for spacing and retention. The authors state that the timing of learning sessions can have powerful effects on retention, however they also acknowledge that there is no optimal spacing interval. If learning of a single topic is confined to a week, it may lead to high levels of retention during that week (and an assumption that ‘mastery’ has been achieved), but evidence shows that the learning will not be retained over longer periods of time. The authors state that a ‘delayed review’ of learning, where learning is revisited after time, is likely to produce a greater level of retention, even when the length of space between revisiting learning may not seem too long. The authors go on to conclude that any ‘delayed review’ of learning is better than none.
Roediger IHL and Butler AC (2011) ‘The critical role of retrieval practice in long-term retention’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15(1):20-27.
This literature review provides an overview of the benefits of retrieval practice. It finds that:
- retrieval practice often produces superior long-term retention compared to studying the material in a longer single sitting
- repeated testing is better than taking a single test
- testing with feedback leads to greater benefits than testing without feedback
- testing under conditions that make retrieval easy (for example, memorisation and testing immediately after content is learned) often has little effect and so some lag between learning and test is required for retrieval practice to provide a benefit
- the benefits of retrieval practice are best realised when learners are asked to transfer learning to different contexts rather than simply asked to recall the same learning.