Weekly Digest #6: An Introduction to Retrieval Practice

Weekly Digest #6: An Introduction to Retrieval Practice

We were recently asked by History teacher Carl Newman @carlnewman9526 if we could provide some good reads on retrieval practice, “for teachers new to the concept”. That was one request we could easily fulfill!

We've blogged about various aspects of retrieval practice:

We also recently created a retrieval practice concept map to visually depict the direct and indirect benefits of quizzing. But surprisingly, we haven’t yet blogged at length about the benefits of quizzing! This is definitely something we plan to do in the future, but for now, here we present 5 easy-to-read yet close-to-the-science blog posts and articles written by others for you to share with teachers who might not have read about retrieval practice as much as you - yet.

Before we launch into the list, though, it’s important to note that there are many different terms that are used to mean more or less the same thing for our purposes. So if you see any of the following, these all refer to retrieval practice, or the act of bringing information to mind from memory:

1) Retrieval Practice: 10 Benefits of Testing by Javier Benitez, MD @jvrbntz

This brief blog post is a great place to start because it summarizes the main highlights from a long, more academic book chapter. At the same time, it also includes a few caveats and links to a video by Bob Bjork. In general, we would recommend following Javier on Twitter, because he is often very thoughtful about applications of cognitive psychology to learning.


In this inspiring blog post, instruction, educational design and innovation expert Julie Schell describes retrieval practice as a potential “game-changer” for students, many of whom may be wasting time on ineffective learning techniques.


3) How Tests Make Us Smarter, NYT Article by Henry L. Roediger, PhD (known to friends as Roddy Roediger)

All of us Learning Scientists are part of the Roddy Roediger extended research family. What we love about Roddy is that he can write so well for a general audience. In fact, even his academic journal articles are usually very accessible and written in a jargon-free style. Here Roddy writes about the benefits of testing for the New York Times in a short piece that makes for easy reading. It’s a good one to share with busy colleagues to whet their appetite for retrieval practice!


4) Researchers Find That Frequent Tests Can Boost Learning, Scientific American Article by Annie Murphy Paul @anniemurphypaul

For those who have a little more time to devote to reading about retrieval practice, here’s a much longer, excellently researched piece by a journalist. This piece goes into lots of nuances, touching upon issues of metacognition and transfer.


5) Test-enhanced learning: Using retrieval practice to help students learn By Cynthia J. Brame, PhD., and Rachel Biel, CFT Undergraduate Intern

Another great resource from the Center For Learning at Vanderbilt University – we already used one of their pieces in our earlier digest on multiple-choice questions, and we really appreciate the work they are doing to describe evidence-based practices in education. Here they take us through the benefits of retrieval practice, ideas for practical implementation, and also some important caveats of testing.