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'Successful' testing can boost memory

June 16, 2011 - Washington

In the past, many researchers have believed that testing is good for memory, but only for the exact thing you are trying to remember: so-called "target memory."

If you're asked to recall the Lithuanian equivalent of an English word, say, you will get good at remembering the Lithuanian, but you won't necessarily remember the English.

Kent State University psychology graduate student Kalif Vaughn wondered whether practice testing might boost other types of memory too.

He found that it does.

"With retrieval practice, everything gets substantially better," Vaughn said.

That "everything" includes target memory; "cue memory," for the stimulus (the Lithuanian) that evinces the target; and "associative memory," of the relationship between things-in this case, the word pair.

Vaughn stresses that it isn't just testing, but successful testing-getting the answer right-that makes the difference in memory performance later on.

The study will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science.


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