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Is expanding retrieval a superior method for learning text materials?

Abstract

Expanding retrieval practice refers to the idea that gradually increasing the spacing interval between repeated tests ought to promote optimal long-term retention. Belief in the superiority of this technique is widespread, but empirical support is scarce. In addition, virtually all research on expanding retrieval has examined the learning of word pairs in paired-associate tasks. We report two experiments in which we examined the learning of text materials with expanding and equally spaced retrieval practice schedules. Subjects studied brief texts and recalled them in an initial learning phase. We manipulated the spacing of the repeated recall tests and examined final recall 1 week later. Overall we found that (1) repeated testing enhanced retention more than did taking a single test, (2) testing with feedback (restudying the passages) produced better retention than testing without feedback, but most importantly (3) there were no differences between expanding and equally spaced schedules of retrieval practice. Repeated retrieval enhanced long-term retention, but how the repeated tests were spaced did not matter.

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Correspondence to Jeffrey D. Karpicke.

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This research was supported by a grant from the James S. McDonnell Foundation 21st Century Science Initiative in Bridging Brain, Mind and Behavior/Collaborative Award.

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Karpicke, J.D., Roediger, H.L. Is expanding retrieval a superior method for learning text materials?. Memory & Cognition 38, 116–124 (2010). https://doi.org/10.3758/MC.38.1.116

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.3758/MC.38.1.116

Keywords

  • Recall Test
  • Retrieval Practice
  • Expository Text
  • Idea Unit
  • Final Recall