A dual memory theory of the testing effect

Theoretical Review


A new theoretical framework for the testing effect—the finding that retrieval practice is usually more effective for learning than are other strategies—is proposed, the empirically supported tenet of which is that separate memories form as a consequence of study and test events. A simplest case quantitative model is derived from that framework for the case of cued recall. With no free parameters, that model predicts both proportion correct in the test condition and the magnitude of the testing effect across 10 experiments conducted in our laboratory, experiments that varied with respect to material type, retention interval, and performance in the restudy condition. The model also provides the first quantitative accounts of (a) the testing effect as a function of performance in the restudy condition, (b) the upper bound magnitude of the testing effect, (c) the effect of correct answer feedback, (d) the testing effect as a function of retention interval for the cases of feedback and no feedback, and (e) the effect of prior learning method on subsequent learning through testing. Candidate accounts of several other core phenomena in the literature, including test-potentiated learning, recognition versus cued recall training effects, cued versus free recall final test effects, and other select transfer effects, are also proposed. Future prospects and relations to other theories are discussed.


Retrieval practice Testing effect Test-enhanced learning Memory Quantitative model 


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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