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How crucial is the response format for the testing effect?

Abstract

Combining study and test trials during learning is more beneficial for long-term retention than repeated study without testing (i.e., the testing effect). Less is known about the relative efficacy of different response formats during testing. We tested the hypothesis that overt testing (typing responses on a keyboard) during a practice phase benefits later memory more than covert testing (only pressing a button to indicate successful retrieval). In Experiment 1, three groups learned 40 word pairs either by repeatedly studying them, by studying and overtly testing them, or by studying and covertly testing them. In Experiment 2, only the two testing conditions were manipulated in a within-subjects design. In both experiments, participants received cued recall tests after a short (~19 min) and a long (1 week) retention interval. In Experiment 1, all groups performed equally well at the short retention interval. The overt testing group reliably outperformed the repeated study group after 1 week, whereas the covert testing group performed insignificantly different from both these groups. Hence, the testing effect was demonstrated for overt, but failed to show for covert testing. In Experiment 2, overtly tested items were better and more quickly retrieved than those covertly tested. Further, this does not seem to be due to any differences in retrieval effort during learning. To conclude, overt testing was more beneficial for later retention than covert testing, but the effect size was small. Possible explanations are discussed.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Please note that the study-only group was added later following a reviewer request. Although participant allocation to the two test groups was random, this was, for this reason, not the case for the study-only group.

  2. 2.

    During final testing in experiment 1 the participants pressed ENTER only after having filled in their response. This response latency measure does not allow for calculating retrieval latency because it includes both the time it takes to retrieve an item and the time it takes to write the response. However, because the final testing procedure and the items used were identical for both groups, any difference between the two should primarily be due to the retrieval latency. To compare with the findings of experiment 2, we ran two separate Mann–Whitney U tests (again due to data not being normally distributed). When tested after the short retention interval, the participants accessed the information reliably faster in the overt (Median = 3,404.79), compared to the covert testing group (Median = 4,054.82), Mann–Whitney U = 367.00, p = 0.02. After a week, the median latencies were still slightly faster in the overt (Median = 4,930.84), compared to the covert testing group (Median = 5,501.00), but this difference was not statistically reliable, Mann–Whitney U = 440.00, p = 0.18. Notably, the result pattern is exactly the same as in experiment 2.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by a grant from The Swedish Research Council (2009-2334) to Fredrik Jönsson. We thank Tara Soltani for help with parts of the data collection in Experiment 1.

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Correspondence to Fredrik U. Jönsson.

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Jönsson, F.U., Kubik, V., Larsson Sundqvist, M. et al. How crucial is the response format for the testing effect?. Psychological Research 78, 623–633 (2014) doi:10.1007/s00426-013-0522-8

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Keywords

  • Target Word
  • Retention Interval
  • Word Pair
  • Response Format
  • Test Cycle