Retrieval practice with short-answer, multiple-choice, and hybrid tests

Memory. 2014;22(7):784-802. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2013.831454. Epub 2013 Sep 23.


Retrieval practice improves meaningful learning, and the most frequent way of implementing retrieval practice in classrooms is to have students answer questions. In four experiments (N=372) we investigated the effects of different question formats on learning. Students read educational texts and practised retrieval by answering short-answer, multiple-choice, or hybrid questions. In hybrid conditions students first attempted to recall answers in short-answer format, then identified answers in multiple-choice format. We measured learning 1 week later using a final assessment with two types of questions: those that could be answered by recalling information verbatim from the texts and those that required inferences. Practising retrieval in all format conditions enhanced retention, relative to a study-only control condition, on both verbatim and inference questions. However, there were little or no advantages of answering short-answer or hybrid format questions over multiple-choice questions in three experiments. In Experiment 4, when retrieval success was improved under initial short-answer conditions, there was an advantage of answering short-answer or hybrid questions over multiple-choice questions. The results challenge the simple conclusion that short-answer questions always produce the best learning, due to increased retrieval effort or difficulty, and demonstrate the importance of retrieval success for retrieval-based learning activities.

Keywords: Learning; Multiple-choice; Question format; Retrieval practice; Short-answer; Testing effect.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Educational Measurement*
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Practice, Psychological*
  • Reaction Time