Research School Network: Retrieval Practice: More Than Just Quizzing We explore some additional retrieval practice methods

Retrieval Practice: More Than Just Quizzing

We explore some additional retrieval practice methods

by Bradford Research School
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Knowledge about cognitive science has grown over the last few years. As terms like retrieval practice’, dual coding’ and interleaving’ become more widely used, there are also instances where some opportunities are missed by a limited understanding. In this little series of posts, we are going to look at some of these issues, starting with retrieval practice.

Retrieval practice is simply the act of recalling previously learnt information. The act of retrieval helps us to remember.

Retrieval practice is often conceptualised as quizzing’ which can then create the impression that quizzes are the only way that we can facilitate retrieval practice. Obviously, quizzes are useful and we would recommend using them, but we are possibly missing out on some other effective ways of facilitating retrieval practice. Quizzes are just cues that facilitate retrieval, but there are other ways to facilitate retrieval that are not quizzing.

Concept mapping
Concept maps are diagrams that map key ideas and their relationships. Concept mapping refers to the activity of creating a concept map. In creating concept maps without the to-be-studied material to hand, we are facilitating retrieval practice. There is evidence that concept-mapping helps to ensure material is remembered. In addition, concept mapping helps to identify the main concepts in a text/​topic and identify the way they interact.

Flashcards are a common factor in students’ revision. However, they are often used poorly. This is because they can be created to actively discourage retrieval practice when pupils write everything on them and just reread them. It feels like effective revision because of the illusion of fluency and the preference for rereading material. On the other hand, if we frame flashcards as a tool used specifically because they facilitate retrieval practice then they become infinitely more useful. We would recommend using the Leitner system to use flashcards and also to encourage pupils to write them on small cards rather than the huge ones you typically find in shops.

Scaffolded retrieval
In a quiz, the only scaffolding is the question or the cue. In particular, for younger pupils a degree of scaffolding may be helpful. Retrieval practice which is unsuccessful means that nothing is retained in long-term memory. Concept maps have been used with primary age pupils to facilitate retrieval with some prompts provided. There is some evidence that higher order learning can benefit from more scaffold for retrieval practice.

Free recall
This is when we write down everything we can remember about a topic. Providing that this is then followed up with some form of checking, it’s a simple way of encouraging retrieval practice.

When considering using retrieval practice as a teaching strategy, or encouraging pupils to use it as a study strategy, remember that it is retrieval – not just quizzing – which leads to long-term learning.

Weinstein Y, Madan CR, Sumeracki MA (2018) Teaching the science of learning. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications3:2

Blunt, J. R., & Karpicke, J. D. (2014). Learning with retrieval-based concept mapping. Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(3), 849 – 858.

Karpicke JD, Blunt JR, Smith MA and Karpicke SS (2014) Retrieval-based learning: the need for guided retrieval in elementary school children. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition 3: 198 – 206.

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