Active Retrieval

Active retrieval is the method of looking at some information and then testing yourself (either through free-recall or guided recall) to see how much you can remember. But the key aspect of this method is that it isn’t used just to see how much someone has learnt or if there are any gaps in their knowledge. Rather it is to actually help them learn and remember the information (by consolidating it in their mind).

The utility of active retrieval is well documented. They have found that students who used practice testing showed greater retention of information compared to: creating mind maps (Karpicke & Blunt, 2011); increased exposure to the materials or restudying (Roediger & Karpicke, 2006; Pyc & Rawson, 2010).

This effect is also seen across age groups, from kindergartners (Fritz, Morris, Nolan & Singleton, 2007) to university medical students (Kromann, Jensen & Ringsted, 2009).

There is evidence to suggest that testing can help transfer information; when tested in a different format to the the one they had learnt the original information in, participants remembered more and performed better if they had employed active retrieval learning techniques (Carpenter, 2012 for a review).

After a thorough review, Dunlosky et al. (2013) rated practice retrieval’s utility as a learning technique as “high” and it is easy to see why, given how effective it is and how easy it is to implement.

Carpenter, S.K. (2012). Testing Enhances the Transfer of Learning. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21 (5), 279-283.
Dunlosky, J.; Rawson, K.; Marsh, E.; Nathan, M. & Willingham, D. (2013). Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 14 (1), 4-58.
Fritz, C.O.; Morris, P.E.; Nolan, D. & Singleton, J. (2007). Expanding Retrieval Practice: an effective aid to preschool children’s learning. The Quarterly Journal of Educational Psychology, 60 (7), 991-1004.
Karpicke, J.D. & Blunt, J.R. (2011). Retrieval Practice produces more learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping. Sciece, 331 (6018), 772-775.
Kromann, C.B.; Jensen, M.L. & Ringstead, C. (2009). The effect of testing on skills learning. Medical Education, 43, 21-27.
Pyc, M.A. & Rawson, K.A. (2010). Why Testing Improves Memory: Mediator Effectiveness Hypothesis. Science, 330 (6002), 335.
Roediger, H.L. & Karpicke, J.D. (2006). Test Enhanced Learning: Taking Memory Tests Improves Long-term Retention. Association for Psychological Science, 17 (3), 249-255. (function(i,s,o,g,r,a,m){i[‘GoogleAnalyticsObject’]=r;i[r]=i[r]||function(){ (i[r].q=i[r].q||[]).push(arguments)},i[r].l=1*new Date();a=s.createElement(o), m=s.getElementsByTagName(o)[0];a.async=1;a.src=g;m.parentNode.insertBefore(a,m) })(window,document,’script’,’//’,’ga’); ga(‘create’, ‘UA-63654510-1’, ‘auto’); ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’);

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