The critical role of retrieval practice in long-term retention

Trends Cogn Sci. 2011 Jan;15(1):20-7. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2010.09.003. Epub 2010 Oct 15.


Learning is usually thought to occur during episodes of studying, whereas retrieval of information on testing simply serves to assess what was learned. We review research that contradicts this traditional view by demonstrating that retrieval practice is actually a powerful mnemonic enhancer, often producing large gains in long-term retention relative to repeated studying. Retrieval practice is often effective even without feedback (i.e. giving the correct answer), but feedback enhances the benefits of testing. In addition, retrieval practice promotes the acquisition of knowledge that can be flexibly retrieved and transferred to different contexts. The power of retrieval practice in consolidating memories has important implications for both the study of memory and its application to educational practice.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cues
  • Educational Measurement
  • Humans
  • Knowledge of Results, Psychological
  • Memory*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Practice, Psychological*
  • Retention, Psychology*
  • Time Factors