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Practicing retrieval is best tool for learning: Study

January 25, 2011 - Washington

Instead of rereading or reviewing the same textbook or other material, it is better to practice retrieval to ensure better learning, according to a new research.

"We continue to show that practicing retrieval, or testing yourself, is a powerful, robust tool for learning," said Jeffrey D. Karpicke, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at the Purdue University.

"Our new research shows that practicing retrieval is an even more effective strategy than engaging in elaborative studying," he added.

"Educators, researchers and students are often focused on getting things 'in memory', so techniques that encourage students to elaborate on the material are often popular. But learning is fundamentally about retrieving, and our research shows that practicing retrieval while you study is crucial to learning. Self-testing enriches and improves the learning process, and there needs to be more focus on using retrieval as a learning strategy," said Karpicke.

He also found that most students are not good at judging the success of their study habits.

In two studies, a total of 200 students studied texts on topics from different science disciplines.

One group engaged in elaborative studying by creating concept maps - diagrams that illustrate the complicated connections and relationships in the material.

The second group read the texts and then practiced retrieval; these students put the material away and practiced recalling the concepts from the text. The students returned to the lab a week later for the actual assessment of long-term learning.

The group that studied by practicing retrieval showed a 50 percent improvement in long-term retention scores above and beyond the group that studied by creating concept maps.

"The final retention test was one of the most important features of our study because we asked questions that tapped into meaningful learning," said Karpicke.

The students also were asked to predict which technique - practicing retrieval or elaborative studying - would be best for their long-term learning. While the majority thought that elaborative studying with concept mapping would be best, the students actually learned more by practicing retrieval.

The findings are published in the current issue of the journal Science.


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