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Retrieval Practice Consistently Benefits Student Learning: a Systematic Review of Applied Research in Schools and Classrooms

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Abstract

Given the growing interest in retrieval practice among educators, it is valuable to know when retrieval practice does and does not improve student learning—particularly for educators who have limited classroom time and resources. In this literature review, we developed a narrow operational definition for “classroom research” compared to previous reviews of the literature. We screened nearly 2000 abstracts and systematically coded 50 experiments to establish a clearer picture of benefits from retrieval practice in real world educational settings. Our review yielded 49 effect sizes and a total n = 5374, the majority of which (57%) revealed medium or large benefits from retrieval practice. We found that retrieval practice improved learning for a variety of education levels, content areas, experimental designs, final test delays, retrieval and final test formats, and timing of retrieval practice and feedback; however, only 6% of experiments were conducted in non-WEIRD countries. Based on our review of the literature, we make eight recommendations for future research and provide educators with a better understanding of the robust benefits of retrieval practice across a range of school and classroom settings.

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Data Availability

All data are available at http://osf.io/mz2ks

Notes

  1. The name of the ship of Charles Darwin’s famous voyage is the Beagle.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Henry L. Roediger, III and Doug Rohrer for valuable discussions, as well four anonymous reviewers for their feedback. We also thank Tarah Collins, Jessica Bailey, Erin Eberly, Makayla Miller, Emily Glassman, and Lauren Stephen for their assistance. This project is registered on the Open Science Framework (OSF) and publicly available at http://osf.io/mz2ks.

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Pooja Agarwal developed the idea for this literature review. Pooja Agarwal and Ludmila Nunes developed the methodology and coding procedure. Ludmila Nunes developed the search syntax and executed the search of databases. All authors screened abstracts, Ludmila Nunes downloaded all articles that passed detailed screening, and all authors coded the articles. Ludmila Nunes calculated effect sizes and created the forest plots. Pooja Agarwal drafted the manuscript, which was edited by Ludmila Nunes and Janell Blunt. All authors have approved the submitted manuscript.

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Correspondence to Pooja K. Agarwal.

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Because our manuscript is a literature review, human subjects approval was not required. This research is not under consideration at other journals.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Syntax used for the literature search is listed in Table 1 in the manuscript.

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Appendix

Appendix

Table 5 A comparison of 50 experiments on retrieval practice conducted in classroom settings

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Agarwal, P.K., Nunes, L.D. & Blunt, J.R. Retrieval Practice Consistently Benefits Student Learning: a Systematic Review of Applied Research in Schools and Classrooms. Educ Psychol Rev 33, 1409–1453 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-021-09595-9

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