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Metacognition About Practice Testing: a Review of Learners’ Beliefs, Monitoring, and Control of Test-Enhanced Learning

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Over a century of research has established practice testing as a highly robust learning strategy that promotes long-term retention. However, learners do not always appreciate the benefits of testing for memory and do not use it as effectively as they could during their own self-regulated learning. The goal of this review is to identify common themes from research focused on learners’ metacognition about practice testing using the three components of metacognition (i.e., beliefs, monitoring, and control) as an organizational guide. To foreshadow the key findings from this research: (1) Without support, learners lack metacognitive awareness of testing as a tool to enhance memory but do recognize that testing can be used as a monitoring tool. (2) Learners can accurately monitor their learning while using practice testing when judgments are made in contexts that are representative of those encountered during a criterion test. (3) In educational contexts, learners report using less effective strategies equally or more often than practice testing. (4) Learners tend to test themselves only under conditions that encourage retrieval success, and rarely use a strategy involving repeated successful retrieval even when it would lead to improved retention. After reviewing research findings, I discuss various interventions that lead to learners using testing more often and more effectively in their own learning and offer recommendations for future research.

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  1. These investigations were not included in Table 4 because questions were asked in a way that made it difficult to summarize or the frequency of use by students could not be computed from reported results. For instance, in research by Gurung et al. (2010), students rated their use of strategies on a 1–5 scale.

  2. Although the benefits of practice testing are most robust when retrieval is successful, retrieval success is not always necessary to invoke benefits—as long as learners receive corrective feedback (Kornell et al. 2015). For example, research has found a memory benefit for learners who study cues and generate errorful responses (e.g., whale–?) before receiving feedback (e.g., whale–mammal) compared to those who simply read the cue and target intact (e.g., Kornell et al. 2009; for a review, see Kornell and Vaughn 2016). Learners also appear to be unaware of this “errorful generation effect,” as measured by item-level JOLs, aggregate JOLs, and questionnaires assessing learners’ beliefs (Huelser and Metcalfe 2012; Potts and Shanks 2014; Potts et al. 2019; Yang et al. 2017; Zawadzka and Hanczakowski 2019).


* Indicates study included a measure of metacognition about practice testing (see text for eligibility criteria)

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The author gratefully acknowledges John Dunlosky, Katherine A. Rawson, Steven C. Pan, Sabrina Badali, and Clarissa A. Thompson for their support and helpful suggestions on earlier versions of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Michelle L. Rivers.

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Rivers, M.L. Metacognition About Practice Testing: a Review of Learners’ Beliefs, Monitoring, and Control of Test-Enhanced Learning. Educ Psychol Rev 33, 823–862 (2021).

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