The critical importance of retrieval for learning

Science. 2008 Feb 15;319(5865):966-8. doi: 10.1126/science.1152408.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Educational Measurement*
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Memory*
  • Mental Recall
  • Practice, Psychological
  • Retention, Psychology
  • Students
  • Time Factors
  • Universities