The Research Digest, September 2014, Issue Number 40

For the 40th issue of the LTO’s Monthly Digest we are experimenting with a new format. The Monthly Digest will now be known as the Research Digest and will appear monthly in the LTO Blog! We hope you like it!

The Research Digest highlights new research in learning and teaching. This month, we are highlighting recent work on the testing effect and the impact of exams on student learning. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, or have any suggestions for us, please send an email to

New research on the effect of testing on learning:

Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, July 2014
The testing effect with authentic educational materials: A cautionary note

Abstract: “Despite considerable evidence that testing benefits subsequent retrieval of information, it remains uncertain whether this effect extends to topically related information with authentic classroom materials. In the current study we first profile the way in which quizzing is used in the classroom through a survey of introductory psychology instructors. The survey results indicate that, instructors frequently use related but different questions on quizzes and tests unlike many laboratory experiments that use identical questions. In two subsequent experiments, participants studied information from a college biology textbook, were quizzed twice, and given a final test. The items on the final test were either identical to or were related but different than the quiz items. Experiment 1 showed that testing produced the typical robust testing effect for repeated items, but there was no significant effect of testing for topically related items. In Experiment 2, participants could use their quizzes to guide restudy, and there was still no positive effect of testing for topically related information.”

Educational Psychology Review, December 2013
The Power of Successive Relearning: Improving Performance on Course Exams and Long-Term Retention

Abstract: “Practice tests and spaced study are both highly potent for enhancing learning and memory. Combining these two methods under the conditions in which they are most effective (i.e., practice tests that invoke successful retrieval from long-term memory and spacing study across days) yields a promising learning technique referred to as successive relearning. Given the obvious implications of successive relearning for promoting student learning and the voluminous literatures on testing and spacing more generally, surprisingly few studies have evaluated successive relearning, and none have done so in an authentic educational context. The two experiments reported here establish the potency of a successive relearning intervention for enhancing student learning by demonstrating meaningful improvements in course exam performance and on long-term retention tests.”

Journal of General Psychology
The Effect of a Final Exam on Long-Term Retention

Abstract: “Testing on a final exam in a college course improved long-term retention over material that had not been tested on the final. Students from an upper level psychology course took a long-term retention test, four to five months after the end of the course. For half of the items, a related question had been on the final. For the remaining half, a related question had appeared on an earlier exam, but not the final. On the long-term retention test, percent correct was 79% when a related question had appeared on the final and 67% when a related question had not appeared on the final. These results have both theoretical and practical implications.”

Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, May 2013
Test-Potentiated Learning: Distinguishing Between Direct and Indirect Effects of Tests

Abstract: “The facilitative effect of retrieval practice, or testing, on the probability of later retrieval has been the focus of much recent empirical research. A lesser known benefit of retrieval practice is that it may also enhance the ability of a learner to benefit from a subsequent restudy opportunity. This facilitative effect of retrieval practice on subsequent encoding is known as test-potentiated learning . Thus far, however, the literature has not isolated the indirect effect of retrieval practice on subsequent memory (via enhancing the effectiveness of restudy) from the direct effects of retrieval on subsequent memory. The experiment presented here uses conditional probability to disentangle test-potentiated learning from the direct effects of retrieval practice. The results indicate that unsuccessful retrieval attempts enhance the effectiveness of subsequent restudy, demonstrating that tests do potentiate subsequent learning.”

Memory and Cognition, January 2013
Does response mode affect amount recalled or the magnitude of the testing effect?

Abstract: “The testing effect is the finding that retrieval practice can enhance recall on future tests. One unanswered question is whether first-test response mode (writing or speaking the answer) affects final-test performance (and whether final-test response mode itself matters). An additional unsettled issue is whether written and oral recall lead to differences in the amount recalled. In three experiments, we examined these issues: whether subjects can recall more via typing or speaking; whether typing or speaking answers on a first test can lead to better final-test performance (and whether an interaction occurs with final-test response mode) and whether any form of overt response leads to better final-test performance as compared to covert retrieval (thinking of the answer but not producing it). Subjects studied paired associates; took a first test by typing, speaking, or thinking about responses; and then took a second test in which the answers were either spoken or typed. The results revealed few differences between typing and speaking during recall, and no difference in the size of the testing effect on the second test. Furthermore, an initial covert retrieval yielded roughly the same benefit to future test performance as did overt retrieval. Thus, the testing effect was quite robust across these manipulations. The practical implication for learning is that covert retrieval provides as much benefit to later retention as does overt retrieval and that both can be effective study strategies.”

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