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Retrieval-based skill learning: testing promotes the acquisition of scientific experimentation skills


We investigated whether retrieval-based learning can facilitate the acquisition of cognitive skills, focusing on the control-of-variables strategy. This core scientific experimentation skill is regularly taught in science education classes because understanding it is essential for understanding experimental investigations in science. In the present study, participants initially read a text explaining the control-of-variables strategy. We compared the effects of subsequent retrieval practice and restudy of the text in performing a transfer test requiring the application of the control-of-variables strategy by judging the validity of a number of experimental designs. In addition, recall of the initially studied text was assessed as well. Repeated retrieval practice in combination with restudy opportunities resulted in better performance in both the transfer test and the recall test as compared to mere restudy or a single study opportunity. These findings demonstrate that retrieval practice is a useful tool for promoting deep conceptual learning.

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  1. We used a text that was appropriate for comprehension by 10- to 12-year old children because this is the typical age level for teaching about CVS in school. Therefore, materials introducing and explaining CVS commonly target that age. We assumed that using a text with more elaborate or sophisticated terms unnecessarily could have resulted in a rather artificial phrasing of what CVS is.

  2. There were a few cases in which participants typed in that they had clicked the wrong button by mistake and then gave reasons for the correct choice. These cases were counted as correct responses.

  3. One participant did not write down any response during the direct memory test. We excluded this participant from the analysis of recall performance.


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Correspondence to Tobias Tempel.

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All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Tempel, T., Kaufmann, K., Kranz, J. et al. Retrieval-based skill learning: testing promotes the acquisition of scientific experimentation skills. Psychological Research 84, 660–666 (2020).

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