Retrieval Practice – Introduction

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Focus on getting information "out" of students' heads.


When we think about learning, we typically focus on getting information into students’ heads. Teachers might lecture, show videos, encourage note taking, and/or provide review sheets. Students often study by re-reading their textbooks, highlighting information, and/or reviewing their notes. In both of these situations, the focus is on getting information “in,” with the hope that it sticks.


Is "Cramming" a Good Idea?


We’ve all had the experience of feeling like these methods work – if I cram, and re-read, and study my notes, I feel fairly confident that I know the information. And indeed, cramming pays off – we tend to do well on a test. So what’s the problem?

Easy to Forget


The problem is that these methods only lead to short-term learning. Have you ever thought about material covered earlier in the semester, only to find that you’ve forgotten most everything? This common situation arises because of an assumption we make about memory: when information comes to mind easily and feels “fluent,” we’ve learned successfully.

Much to our surprise, however, memory researchers have demonstrated that the opposite is true: when information comes to mind easily and feels fluent, it’s easy to forget. In other words, just because we learn something quickly and easily does not guarantee we’ll remember it.

Watch a video (4min)