GUEST POST: Who Really Benefits from Retrieval Practice

GUEST POST: Who Really Benefits from Retrieval Practice

So, what does this mean?

First of all, although the benefits of testing have been extensively reported, it appears that not all participants, at least among college students, do benefit directly from testing. In fact, for about 1/3 of our participants, retrieval practice made them worse. Does this mean we should stop incorporating testing as a pedagogical technique? Probably not – there are other benefits of retrieval practice (such as more frequent review of material, increased metacognitive awareness, and so on [8]). However, we would encourage students and learners of all ages to critically evaluate what works for them and what doesn’t.

Second, even among participants who do benefit from testing, the benefits vary. Testing might be more beneficial at some levels of learning than at others. When material is too easy or too difficult, the expected benefits might not be evident and frustration could result. Again, we recommend critically assessing which strategies are effective in which situations.



(1) Karpicke, J. D., Blunt, J. R., & Smith, M. A. (2016). Retrieval-based learning: Positive effects of retrieval practice in elementary school children. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 350. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00350

(2) Agarwal, P. K., Bain, P. M., & Chamberlain, R. W. (2012). The value of applied research: Retrieval practice improves classroom learning and recommendations from a teacher, a principal, and a scientist. Educational Psychology Review, 24(3), 437-448. doi:10.1007/s10648-012-9210-2

(3) Coane, J. H. (2013). Retrieval practice and elaborative encoding benefit memory in younger and older adults. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition2(2), 95-100. doi:10.1016/j.jarmac.2013.04.001

(4) Sumowski, J. F., Coyne, J., Cohen, A., & Deluca, J. (2014). Retrieval practice improves memory in survivors of severe traumatic brain injury. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 95(2), 397-400. doi:10.1016/j.apmr.2013.10.021

(5) Agarwal, P. K., Finley, J. R., Rose, N. S., & Roediger, H. L. (2017). Benefits from retrieval practice are greater for students with lower working memory capacity. Memory, 25(6), 764-771. doi:10.1080/09658211.2016.1220579

(6) Brewer, G.A., & Unsworth, N. (2012). Individual differences in the effects of retrieval from long-term memory. Journal of Memory and Language, 66, 407-415. doi: 10.1016/j.jml.2011.12.009.

(7) Nelson, T. O., & Dunlosky, J. (1994). Norms of paired-associate recall during multitrial learning of Swahili-English translation equivalents. Memory, 2, 325-335. doi: 10.1080/09658219408258951

(8) Roediger, H. L., Putnam, A. L., & Smith, M. A. (2011). Ten benefits of testing and their applications to educational practice. In J. Mestre & B. Ross (Eds.), Psychology of learning and motivation: Cognition in education (pp. 1-36). Oxford: Elsevier.