Testing effect

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The testing effect is a psychological phenomenon that refers to an enhancement in the long-term retention of information as a result of taking a memory test. [1] However, in order for this effect to be demonstrated the test trials must have a medium to high retrieval success. Logically if the test trials are so difficult that no items are recalled or if the correct answers to the non-recalled items are not given to the test subject, then minimal or no learning will occur.[2] This is by no means a new concept in the field of human memory, with the first documented empirical study occurring in 1917 by Gates.[3] The effect is also sometimes referred to as retrieval practice or test-enhanced learning.

An important step in proving the existence of the testing effect as a function of the retrieval itself rather than simply a benefit of an additional study period was presented in a 1992 study by Carrier and Pashler.[4] Carrier and Pashler proposed in their abstract that "In the pure study trial (pure ST condition) method, both items of a pair were presented simultaneously for study. In the test trial/study trial (TTST condition) method, subjects attempted to retrieve the response term during a period in which only the stimulus term was present (and the response term of the pair was presented after a 5-sec delay). Final retention of target items was tested with cued-recall tests. In Experiment 1, there was a reliable advantage in final testing for nonsense-syllable/number pairs in the TTST condition over pairs in the pure ST condition. In Experiment 2, the same result was obtained with Eskimo/English word pairs. This benefit of the TTST condition was not apparently different for final retrieval after 5 min or after 24 h. Experiments 3 and 4 ruled out two artifactual explanations of the TTST advantage observed in the first two experiments. Because performing a memory retrieval (TTST condition) led to better performance than pure study (pure ST condition), the results reject the hypothesis that a successful retrieval is beneficial only to the extent that it provides another study experience." This groundbreaking study did not in fact reveal a very large advantage of testing over studying, but paved the way for future studies that have shown a more marked advantage.[5]

Two conflicting views have arisen as to why testing seems to provide such a benefit over simply repeated studying. The first view provided by McDaniel[6] defended the idea that testing better allows people to formulate newer, more copious lasting connections between items as opposed to simply restudying the same connections over and over. The second view stems from Roediger and Karpicke[7] which basically states that when people encode associations between items, they are also encoding the process to retrieve those items and testing provides practice in activating these retrievals whereas studying could not. However, new findings[8] have demonstrated more support of this second view when comparing the two ideas head-to-head.


Before much experimental evidence had been collected, the utility of testing was already apparent to some insightful observers. In his 1932 book Psychology of Study, Prof. C. A. Mace said "On the matter of sheer repetitive drill there is another principle of the highest importance: Active repetition is very much more effective than passive repetition. ... there are two ways of introducing further repetitions. We may re-read this list: this is passive repetition. We may recall it to mind without reference to the text before forgetting has begun: this is active repetition. It has been found that when acts of reading and acts of recall alternate, ie when every reading is followed by an attempt to recall the items, the efficiency of learning and retention is enormously enhanced."[9]

Clearly the largest application for any human memory studies of learning effects is for education and finding better ways to relate information to students at every grade level. Extensive research has been done in this area in the last decade. With findings showing that the testing effect can have a greater impact after a delay[10] even though students themselves seemed more confident in studying (which turned out to be false in the data). Additional reviews[11] have sought to provide more reliable results of the testing effect to improve education, a trend that after nearly 100 years, seems to be catching on.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ E. Bruce Goldstein. Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research and Everyday Experience. Cengage Learning. p. 231. ISBN 978-1-133-00912-2. 
  2. ^ Bjork, R. A., & Bjork, E. L. (1992). A new theory of disuse and an old theory of stimulus fluctuation. In A. Healy, S. Kosslyn, & R. Shiffrin (Eds.), From learning processes to cognitive processes: Essays in honor of William K. Estes (Vol. 2, pp. 35-67). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Based upon research done by: IZAWA, C. Reinforcement-test sequences in pairedassociate learning. Psychological Reports, 1966, 18, 879-919.
  3. ^ Gates, A. I. (1917). Recitation as a factor in memorizing. Archives of Psychology, 6, No. 40.
  4. ^ Carrier, M., & Pashler, H. (1992). The influence of retrieval on retention. Memory and Cognition, 20, 632-642.
  5. ^ Roediger, H.L. & Karpicke, J.D. (2006). Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychological Science, 17, 249-255.
  6. ^ McDaniel,M.A., &Fisher, R.P. (1991). Tests and test feedback as learning sources. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 16, 192–201.
  7. ^ Roediger, H. L. & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 181-210.
  8. ^ Karpicke, J. D., & Blunt, J. R. (2011). Retrieval practice produces more learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. Science, 331, 772-775
  9. ^ 1932 book Psychology of Study, Prof. C. A. Mace (p. 39)
  10. ^ Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. (2008). The critical importance of retrieval for learning. Science, 319, 966-968.
  11. ^ McDaniel, M. A., Roediger, H. L., & McDermott, K. B. (2007). Generalizing test-enhanced learning from the laboratory to the classroom. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14, 200-206.

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