Cue strength as a moderator of the testing effect: the benefits of elaborative retrieval

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2009 Nov;35(6):1563-9. doi: 10.1037/a0017021.


The current study explored the elaborative retrieval hypothesis as an explanation for the testing effect: the tendency for a memory test to enhance retention more than restudying. In particular, the retrieval process during testing may activate elaborative information related to the target response, thereby increasing the chances that activation of any of this information will facilitate later retrieval of the target. In a test of this view, participants learned cue-target pairs, which were strongly associated (e.g., Toast: Bread) or weakly associated (e.g., Basket: Bread), through either a cued recall test (Toast: _____) or a restudy opportunity (Toast: Bread). A final test requiring free recall of the targets revealed that tested items were retained better than restudied items, and although strong cues facilitated recall of tested items initially, items recalled from weak cues were retained better over time, such that this advantage was eliminated or reversed at the time of the final test. Restudied items were retained at similar rates on the final test regardless of the strength of the cue-target relationship. These results indicate that the activation of elaborative information-which would occur to a greater extent during testing than restudying--may be one mechanism that underlies the testing effect.

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology*
  • Cues*
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reaction Time / physiology