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Effortful Tests and Repeated Metacognitive Judgments Enhance Future Learning

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Prior testing can facilitate subsequent learning, a phenomenon termed the forward testing effect (FTE). We examined a metacognitive account of this effect, which proposes that the FTE occurs because retrieval leads to strategy optimizations during later learning. One prediction of this account is that tests that require less retrieval effort (e.g., multiple-choice relative to cued-recall) should lead to a smaller benefit on new learning. We examined the impact of interpolated multiple-choice or cued-recall testing (relative to no prior testing) on new learning of a four-section STEM text passage. The effect sizes associated with the FTE were numerically, though not significantly larger when the prior tests were cued-recall than multiple-choice, but only when interpolated judgments of learning were not queried. Further, when multiple-choice tests were made more difficult through lure similarity, the FTE was similarly increased. Finally, the FTE was eliminated entirely when participants provided four JOLs after reading each text section. We believe this elimination of the FTE stemmed from an increase in performance for the control participants induced by reactivity from repeated metacognitive queries requiring deep metacognitive reflection. Taken together, these experiments support a metacognitive account of FTE and have important implications for how educators and students should employ retrieval practice and leverage the benefits of metacognitive reflection to improve new learning.

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  1. Note that Kubik et al. (2022) also examined JOLs in an FTE paradigm. However, their method employed item-by-item JOLs, which can recruit covert retrieval processes that mimic overt retrieval. In the case of the present study, we were interested primarily in aggregate judgments, which are less likely to elicit covert retrieval, particularly for complex material.

  2. The experiments reported here were not publicly pre-registered, but the methodology was presented in a dissertation proposal by S.D. to her doctoral program committee members, which include J.C.K. Importantly, the dissertation process served a similar function to a pre-registration, because S.D. was expected to adhere to the proposed methodology. Experiments 1a, 1b, and 2b were included in this proposal, and Experiment 2a was designed using the same sample size targets to ensure consistency between experiments.

  3. We conducted a 2 (Sample: Online vs. Lab) × 4 (Experiment) × 3 (Interpolated Test Condition: Cued-Recall, Easy Multiple-Choice, or No Test) × 2 (Criterial Test Condition: Cued-Recall vs. Multiple Choice) to determine the impact of sample on the primary dependent measure. The main effect of sample was not significant, nor were any interactions involving the Sample variable, F’s < 1.87.

  4. articipants were never given a delayed multiple-choice test in actuality, but we included questions regarding a delayed cued-recall and multiple-choice test to be consistent with the questions for the immediate tests.

  5. Further, the most optimal strategy that a learner can use likely varies tremendously based on the difficulty of the to-be-studied material, the learner’s motivation, time constraints, and the learner’s ultimate goals.

  6. We would be remiss if we did not add the caveat that the JOL effects that we discuss here were only observed cross-experimentally. In fact, we did not anticipate the JOL reactivity effect at the outset of these experiments, given that there is evidence that reactivity effects are limited in complex materials (Tauber et al., 2015).


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Correspondence to Sara D. Davis.

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Davis, S.D., Chan, J.C.K. Effortful Tests and Repeated Metacognitive Judgments Enhance Future Learning. Educ Psychol Rev 35, 86 (2023).

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