Educational Psychology Review

, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 419–435 | Cite as

When Is Practice Testing Most Effective for Improving the Durability and Efficiency of Student Learning?

  • Katherine A. RawsonEmail author
  • John Dunlosky
Review Article


Although summative testing is often maligned within educational communities, practice testing is one of the most well-established strategies for improving student learning. Despite the wealth of empirical evidence that testing can enhance learning, teachers and students underutilize practice testing as a learning strategy. Accordingly, a high-level goal of this paper is to advocate for increased use of practice testing as a means for improving student learning. To this end, we discuss prior research establishing the generality of test-enhanced learning as well as prior research that points to conditions under which practice testing is particularly effective. We then summarize some recent research that explores schedules of practice testing that will not only produce durable learning, but will do so most efficiently. To briefly foreshadow, a particularly effective schedule involves practicing retrieval until target information is correctly recalled once during initial learning and then relearned to one correct recall in three to four subsequent sessions. Finally, we argue that exploring both criteria—durability and efficiency—can be valuable for evaluating the utility of learning techniques, and we offer some basic prescriptive conclusions for students and educators as well as recommendations for future research.


Test-enhanced learning Retrieval practice Testing effects Relearning Long-term retention Efficiency 


  1. Agarwal, P. K., Karpicke, J. D., Kang, S. H. K., Roediger, H. L., III, & McDermott, K. B. (2008). Examining the testing effect with open- and closed-book tests. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 22, 861–876.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bahrick, H. P. (1979). Maintenance of knowledge: Questions about memory we forgot to ask. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General, 108, 296–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Balota, D. A., Duchek, J. M., Sergent-Marshall, S. D., & Roediger, H. L., III. (2006). Does expanding retrieval produce benefits over equal-interval spacing? Explorations of spacing effects in healthy aging and early stage Alzheimer’s disease. Psychology and Aging, 21, 19–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bouwmeester, S., & Verkoeijen, P. P. J. L. (2011). Why do some children benefit more from testing than others? Gist trace processing to explain the testing effect. Journal of Memory and Lanugage, 65, 32–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Butler, A. C. (2010). Repeated testing produces superior transfer of learning relative to repeated studying. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 36, 1118–1133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Butler, A. C., & Roediger, H. L. I. I. I. (2007). Testing improves long-term retention in a simulated classroom setting. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 19, 514–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Butler, A. C., & Roediger, H. L. I. I. I. (2008). Feedback enhances the positive effects and reduces the negative effects multiple-choice testing. Memory & Cognition, 36, 604–616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Butler, A. C., Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. I. I. I. (2007). The effect of type and timing of feedback on learning from multiple-choice tests. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Applied, 13, 273–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carpenter, S. K. (2009). Cue strength as a moderator of the testing effect: The benefits of elaborative retrieval. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 35, 1563–1569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carpenter, S. K., & DeLosh, E. L. (2006). Impoverished cue support enhances subsequent retention: Support for the elaborative retrieval explanation of the testing effect. Memory & Cognition, 34, 268–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Carpenter, S. K., & Pashler, H. (2007). Testing beyond words: Using tests to enhance visuospatial map learning. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14, 474–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Carpenter, S. K., Pashler, H., & Cepeda, N. J. (2009). Using tests to enhance 8th grade students’ retention of U.S. history facts. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 760–771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cepeda, N. J., Vul, E., Rohrer, D., Wixted, J. T., & Pashler, H. (2008). Spacing effects in learning: A temporal ridgeline of optimal retention. Psychological Science, 19, 1095–1102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chan, J. C. K. (2009). When does retrieval induce forgetting and when does it induce facilitation? Implications for retrieval inhibition, testing effect, and text processing. Journal of Memory and Language, 61, 153–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Chan, J. C. K. (2010). Long-term effects of testing on the recall of nontested materials. Memory, 18, 49–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cranney, J., Ahn, M., McKinnon, R., Morris, S., & Watts, K. (2009). The testing effect, collaborative learning, and retrieval-induced facilitation in a classroom setting. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 21, 919–940.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cull, W. L. (2000). Untangling the benefits of multiple study opportunities and repeated testing for cued recall. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 14, 215–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cull, W. L., Shaughnessy, J. J., & Zechmeister, E. B. (1996). Expanding understanding of the expanding-pattern-of-retrieval mnemonic: Toward confidence in applicability. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Applied, 2, 365–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Daniel, D. B., & Broida, J. (2004). Using web-based quizzing to improve exam performance: Lessons learned. Teaching of Psychology, 31, 207–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dunlosky, J., & Lipko, A. R. (2007). Metacomprehension: A brief history and how to improve its accuracy. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 228–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dunlosky, J., & Rawson, K. A. (2012). Overconfidence produces underachievement: Inaccurate self evaluations undermine students’ learning and retention. Learning and Instruction, 22, 271–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dunlosky, J., Hartwig, M. K., Rawson, K. A., & Lipko, A. R. (2011). Improving college students’ evaluation of text learning using idea-unit standards. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64, 467–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K.A., Marsh, E.J., Nathan, M.J., & Willingham, D.T. (2012). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest. (in press).Google Scholar
  24. Fazio, L. K., Agarwal, P. K., Marsh, E. J., & Roediger, H. L. I. I. I. (2010). Memorial consequences of multiple-choice testing on immediate and delayed tests. Memory & Cognition, 38, 407–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fritz, C. O., Morris, P. E., Nolan, D., & Singleton, J. (2007). Expanding retrieval practice: An effective aid to preschool children’s learning. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60, 991–1004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Glover, J. A. (1989). The “testing” phenomenon: Not gone but nearly forgotten. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81, 392–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gurung, R. A. R. (2005). How do students really study (and does it matter)? Teaching of Psychology, 32, 239–241.Google Scholar
  28. Hartwig, M. K., & Dunlosky, J. D. (2012). Study strategies of college students: Are self-testing and scheduling related to achievement? Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 19, 126–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Helder, E., & Shaughnessy, J. J. (2008). Retrieval opportunities while multitasking improve name recall. Memory, 16, 896–909.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Johnson, C. I., & Mayer, R. E. (2009). A testing effect with multimedia learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101, 621–629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kang, S. H. K., Pashler, H., Cepeda, N. J., Rohrer, D., Carpenter, S. K., & Mozer, M. C. (2011). Does incorrect guessing impair fact learning? Journal of Educational Psychology, 103, 48–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. I. I. I. (2007). Expanding retrieval practice promotes short-term retention, but equally spaced retrieval enhances long-term retention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33, 704–719.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Karpicke, J. D., Butler, A. C., & Roediger, H. L. I. I. I. (2009). Metacognitive strategies in student learning: Do students practise retrieval when they study on their own? Memory, 17, 471–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kintsch, W., & Mangalath, P. (2011). The construction of meaning. Topics in Cognitive Science, 3, 346–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kornell, N., & Bjork, R. A. (2007). The promise and perils of self-regulated study. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14, 219–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kornell, N., Hays, M. J., & Bjork, R. A. (2009). Unsuccessful retrieval attempts enhance subsequent learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 35, 989–998.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Landauer, T. K., McNamara, D. S., Dennis, S., & Kintsch, W. (2007). Handbook of latent semantic analysis. Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  38. McCarthy, P. M., Guess, R. H., & McNamara, D. S. (2009). The components of paraphrase evaluations. Behavior Research Methods, 41, 682–690.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. McDaniel, M. A., Anderson, J. L., Derbish, M. H., & Morrisette, N. (2007). Testing the testing effect in the classroom. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 19, 494–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. McDaniel, M. A., Howard, D. C., & Einstein, G. O. (2009). The read-recite-review study strategy: Effective and portable. Psychological Science, 20, 516–522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. McDaniel, M. A., Agarwal, P. K., Huelser, B. J., McDermott, K. B., & Roediger, H. L. I. I. I. (2011). Test-enhanced learning in a middle school science classroom: The effects of quiz frequency and placement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103, 399–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Metcalfe, J., Kornell, N., & Finn, B. (2009). Delayed versus immediate feedback in children‘s and adults’ vocabulary learning. Memory & Cognition, 37, 1077–1087.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Morris, P. E., Fritz, C. O., Jackson, L., Nichol, E., & Roberts, E. (2005). Strategies for learning proper names: Expanding retrieval practice, meaning, and imagery. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19, 779–798.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Nelson, T. O. (1985). Ebbinghaus’s contribution to the measurement of retention: Savings during relearning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 11, 472–479.Google Scholar
  45. Pashler, H., Zarow, G., & Triplett, B. (2003). Is temporal spacing of tests helpful even when it inflates error rates? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 29, 1051–1057.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pavlik, P. I., Jr., & Anderson, J. R. (2005). Practice and forgetting effects on vocabulary memory: An activation-based model of the spacing effect. Cognitive Science, 29, 559–586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pyc, M. A., & Rawson, K. A. (2009). Testing the retrieval effort hypothesis: Does greater difficulty correctly recalling information lead to higher levels of memory? Journal of Memory and Language, 60, 437–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Pyc, M. A., & Rawson, K. A. (2010). Why testing improves memory: Mediator effectiveness hypothesis. Science, 330, 335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rawson, K. A., & Dunlosky, J. (2011). Optimizing schedules of retrieval practice for durable and efficient learning: How much is enough? Journal of Experimental Psychology. General, 140, 283–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rawson, K.A., & Dunlosky, J. (2012). Retrieval-monitoring-feedback (RMF) technique for producing efficient and durable student learning. To appear in R. Azevedo & V. Aleven (Eds.), International Handbook of Metacognition and Learning Technologies (in press).Google Scholar
  51. Richland, L. E., Kornell, N., & Kao, L. S. (2009). The pretesting effect: Do unsuccessful retrieval attempts enhance learning? Journal of Experimental Psychology. Applied, 15, 243–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Roediger, H. L., III, & Butler, A. C. (2011). The critical role of retrieval practice in long-term retention. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15(1), 20–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Roediger, H. L., III, & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychological Science, 17, 249–255. Google Scholar
  54. Roediger, H. L., III, Agarwal, P. K., McDaniel, M. A., & McDermott, K. B. (2011). Test-enhanced learning in the classroom: Long-term improvements from quizzing. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Applied, 17, 382–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rohrer, D., Taylor, K., & Sholar, B. (2010). Tests enhance the transfer of learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 36, 233–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Vaughn, K. E., & Rawson, K. A. (2011). Diagnosing criterion level effects on memory: What aspects of memory are enhanced by repeated retrieval? Psychological Science, 22, 1127–1131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Vaughn, K.E., & Rawson, K.A. (2012). When is guessing incorrectly better than studying for enhancing memory? Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. doi: 10.3758/s13423-012-0276-0.
  58. Wissman, K.T., Rawson, K.A., & Pyc, M.A. (2012). How and when do students use flashcards? Memory. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2012.687052.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyKent State UniversityKentUSA

Personalised recommendations