Adaptive and qualitative changes in encoding strategy with experience: evidence from the test-expectancy paradigm

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2012 May;38(3):632-52. doi: 10.1037/a0026215. Epub 2011 Nov 21.


Three experiments demonstrated learners' abilities to adaptively and qualitatively accommodate their encoding strategies to the demands of an upcoming test. Stimuli were word pairs. In Experiment 1, test expectancy was induced for either cued recall (of targets given cues) or free recall (of targets only) across 4 study-test cycles of the same test format, followed by a final critical cycle featuring either the expected or the unexpected test format. For final tests of both cued and free recall, participants who had expected that test format outperformed those who had not. This disordinal interaction, supported by recognition and self-report data, demonstrated not mere differences in effort based on anticipated test difficulty, but rather qualitative and appropriate differences in encoding strategies based on expected task demands. Participants also came to appropriately modulate metacognitive monitoring (Experiment 2) and study-time allocation (Experiment 3) across study-test cycles. Item and associative recognition performance, as well as self-report data, revealed shifts in encoding strategies across trials; these results were used to characterize and evaluate the different strategies that participants employed for cued versus free recall and to assess the optimality of participants' metacognitive control of encoding strategies. Taken together, these data illustrate a sophisticated form of metacognitive control, in which learners qualitatively shift encoding strategies to match the demands of anticipated tests.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Association Learning / physiology*
  • Attention
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychophysics
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Students
  • Universities
  • Vocabulary