The Power of Testing Memory: Basic Research and Implications for Educational Practice

Perspect Psychol Sci. 2006 Sep;1(3):181-210. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6916.2006.00012.x.


A powerful way of improving one's memory for material is to be tested on that material. Tests enhance later retention more than additional study of the material, even when tests are given without feedback. This surprising phenomenon is called the testing effect, and although it has been studied by cognitive psychologists sporadically over the years, today there is a renewed effort to learn why testing is effective and to apply testing in educational settings. In this article, we selectively review laboratory studies that reveal the power of testing in improving retention and then turn to studies that demonstrate the basic effects in educational settings. We also consider the related concepts of dynamic testing and formative assessment as other means of using tests to improve learning. Finally, we consider some negative consequences of testing that may occur in certain circumstances, though these negative effects are often small and do not cancel out the large positive effects of testing. Frequent testing in the classroom may boost educational achievement at all levels of education.