Metacognitive strategies in student learning: do students practise retrieval when they study on their own?

Memory. 2009 May;17(4):471-9. doi: 10.1080/09658210802647009.


Basic research on human learning and memory has shown that practising retrieval of information (by testing the information) has powerful effects on learning and long-term retention. Repeated testing enhances learning more than repeated reading, which often confers limited benefit beyond that gained from the initial reading of the material. Laboratory research also suggests that students lack metacognitive awareness of the mnemonic benefits of testing. The implication is that in real-world educational settings students may not engage in retrieval practise to enhance learning. To investigate students' real-world study behaviours, we surveyed 177 college students and asked them (1) to list strategies they used when studying (an open-ended free report question) and (2) to choose whether they would reread or practise recall after studying a textbook chapter (a forced report question). The results of both questions point to the same conclusion: A majority of students repeatedly read their notes or textbook (despite the limited benefits of this strategy), but relatively few engage in self-testing or retrieval practise while studying. We propose that many students experience illusions of competence while studying and that these illusions have significant consequences for the strategies students select when they monitor and regulate their own learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude
  • Educational Measurement / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Mental Recall*
  • Practice, Psychological*
  • Reading
  • Retention, Psychology*
  • Students / psychology*