“Testing boosts memory, study doesn’t”

A study reported last month in Science is being discussed around the blogosphere under titles like “Testing boosts memory, study doesn’t,” and “Testing, not studying, makes for strong long-term memories.”

I think the 2½-page published report of the study itself makes for an excellent item to “test” students’ (I’m thinking now of grad students in education) ability to recognize the implications of the difference between cognitivist vs. social-ontological approaches to learning.

Here’s the free public authors’ abstract of the article at Sciencemag.org:

Science 15 February 2008:
Vol. 319. no. 5865, pp. 966 – 968
DOI: 10.1126/science.1152408


The Critical Importance of Retrieval for Learning

Jeffrey D. Karpicke1* and Henry L. Roediger, III2 Learning is often considered complete when a student can produce the correct answer to a question. In our research, students in one condition learned foreign language vocabulary words in the standard paradigm of repeated study-test trials. In three other conditions, once a student had correctly produced the vocabulary item, it was repeatedly studied but dropped from further testing, repeatedly tested but dropped from further study, or dropped from both study and test. Repeated studying after learning had no effect on delayed recall, but repeated testing produced a large positive effect. In addition, students’ predictions of their performance were uncorrelated with actual performance. The results demonstrate the critical role of retrieval practice in consolidating learning and show that even university students seem unaware of this fact.

1 Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA.
2 Department of Psychology, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: karpicke@purdue.edu

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