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Research


The science of learning.

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Research


The science of learning.

Currently, we are witness to profound educational progress: technological advancements, growing student diversity, and revamped accountability systems, for example. In this era of flexibility, we have a golden opportunity as cognitive scientists to take what we've learned about human learning and memory and apply it to education.

Laboratory research is critical for the development of evidence-based strategies, and these strategies can then be applied in the real world to confirm whether they work. Most all of my research on learning has been conducted “in the wild,” while maintaining scientific rigor. As any scientist can explain, applied research is tough. It's "messy." And while it is messy, confirmation that laboratory-based strategies remain effective in authentic educational settings is gratifying. Applied research is not only doable – it's vital.

Here are a few highlights about my research experience:

  • I completed my Ph.D. with generous support from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow program
  • For more than a decade, distinguished memory scholar Henry L. Roediger, III (author of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning) continues to serve as my primary mentor and collaborator
  • My research has been published in leading peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Educational Psychology, the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, and the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition
  • I served as Guest Editor for a special issue of Educational Psychology Review, entitled “Advances in cognitive psychology relevant to education” (September 2012), and I continue to serve as a reviewer for nearly 20 peer-reviewed journals
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Scientific Findings


Examining how learning works.

Scientific Findings


Examining how learning works.

Cognitive science has drastic implications for education. The amount of knowledge we possess about how learning works is abundant – more than we realize. The translation of scientific findings is imperative if we are to transform education and learning using evidence-based strategies.

As a small step toward translating findings from the science of learning, below I present some of the primary research questions (and answers) I've examined. Click on the lightbulb to view the scientific findings for each research question. To view all of my publications, please scroll down or click here.

 

  Does retrieval practice improve learning in authentic K-12 classrooms?


Yes. Over the course of a 7-year project with more than 1,500 middle school and high school students, numerous studies have revealed that retrieval practice in authentic classroom settings improves long-term learning. This research demonstrates that delayed quizzes are particularly potent for retention, quizzes benefit students’ transfer to novel information, and quizzes with feedback improve students’ learning and metacognitive awareness more than quizzes without feedback.

For a review of retrieval practice research in K-12 classrooms, I recommend an article by Agarwal, Bain, and Chamberlain (2012), published in Educational Psychology Review.


  Does retrieval practice improve higher order learning?


Yes, but it's a little complicated. Retrieval practice improves both fact and higher order learning more than restudying or no quizzing. Some research has found that retrieval practice improves students' transfer to new information, but this phenomenon is not always easy to ascertain. More recently, findings from my dissertation suggest that retrieval practice improves higher order learning, but only when initial quizzes also contain higher order complex questions. In other words, fact quizzes improve fact learning on a final exam, and higher order quizzes improve higher order learning on a final exam.

For a study about improving students' transfer of knowledge in K-12 classrooms with retrieval practice, I recommend an article by McDaniel et al. (2013), published in Applied Cognitive Psychology.


  Does retrieval practice increase students' text anxiety?


No. To answer this question, we surveyed 1,408 middle school and high school students about their reactions to a classroom-based program of retrieval practice. For classes in which retrieval practice occurred, 92% of students reported that retrieval practice helped them learn and 72% reported that retrieval practice made them less nervous for unit tests and exams. This study was one of the first to examine the relationship between retrieval practice and classroom test anxiety.

For a study about reducing students' test anxiety with retrieval practice, I recommend an article by Agarwal et al. (2014), published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.


  Which is more effective: retrieval practice with open-book or closed-book quizzes?


It depends. Retrieval practice with open-book and closed-book quizzes produce similar results in terms of improving students' performance on a final exam, compared to restudying or no initial quiz. However, if students know, in advance, that they will be taking an open-book quiz after reading a brief article, they spend less time studying and have poorer performance on a final exam, compared to if they know they are taking a closed-book quiz. Put differently, an open-book quiz improves students' learning, but not if students know that the quiz will be open-book.

For studies about open-book quizzes and the effect of test expectancy on learning, I recommend an article by Agarwal et al. (2008), published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, as well as an article by Agarwal and Roediger (2011), published in Memory.

 

For more information and research about retrieval practice, please visit www.retrievalpractice.org.

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Presentations


Translating the science of learning.

Presentations


Translating the science of learning.

Presenting and disseminating research with fellow academics and scientists is extremely rewarding. I love learning about colleagues' recent discoveries, encountering a new way to tackle a research question, and forming collaborations with scientists from around the world. I have translated research via various avenues: I've organized symposia, served as a panelist, presented invited talks, and exhibited posters. Over the years, I have enjoyed participating in conventions, conferences, and workshops at numerous universities and professional societies. If you would like a copy of my presentations or posters, please don't hesitate to contact me.

 

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Publications


The inner workings of learning.

Publications


The inner workings of learning.

Publishing scientific findings in academic journals is essential to creating a science of learning. As scientists, we build upon theories, replicate previous findings, and contribute to a body of knowledge.

Above, I have summarized some of my key scientific findings. Below, I provide a complete list and download links for my publications. If you have any questions, please let me know. I love talking about science.

 

Peer-Reviewed Publications

Agarwal, P. K., Finley, J. R., Rose, N. S., & Roediger, H. L. (2017). Benefits from retrieval practice are greater for students with lower working memory capacity. Memory, 25, 764-771. [PDF]

Agarwal, P. K., D’Antonio, L., Roediger, H. L., McDermott, K. B., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Classroom-based programs of retrieval practice reduce middle school and high school students’ test anxiety. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 3, 131-139. [PDF]

McDermott, K. B., Agarwal, P. K., D’Antonio, L., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Both multiple-choice and short-answer quizzes enhance later exam performance in middle and high school classes. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 20, 3-21. [PDF]

Zaromb, F., Butler, A. C., Agarwal, P. K., & Roediger, H. L. (2014). Collective memories of three wars in United States history in younger and older adults. Memory & Cognition, 42, 383-399. [PDF]

McDaniel, M. A., Thomas, R. C., Agarwal, P. K., McDermott, K. B., & Roediger, H. L. (2013). Quizzing in middle-school science: Successful transfer performance on classroom exams. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 27, 360-372. [PDF]

Agarwal, P. K. (2012). Advances in cognitive psychology relevant to education: Introduction to the special issue. Educational Psychology Review, 24, 353-354. [PDF]

Agarwal, P. K., Bain, P. M., & Chamberlain, R. W. (2012). The value of applied research: Retrieval practice improves classroom learning and recommendations from a teacher, a principal, and a scientist. Educational Psychology Review, 24, 437-448. [PDF]

Agarwal, P. K., & Roediger, H. L. (2011). Expectancy of an open-book test decreases performance on a delayed closed-book test. Memory, 19, 836-852. [PDF]

McDaniel, M. A., Agarwal, P. K., Huelser, B. J., McDermott, K. B., & Roediger, H. L. (2011). Test-enhanced learning in a middle school science classroom: The effects of quiz frequency and placement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103, 399-414. [PDF]

Roediger, H. L., Agarwal, P. K., McDaniel, M. A., & McDermott, K. B. (2011). Test-enhanced learning in the classroom: Long-term improvements from quizzing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 17, 382-395. [PDF]

Fazio, L. K., Agarwal, P. K., Marsh, E. J., & Roediger, H. L. (2010). Memorial consequences of multiple-choice testing on immediate and delayed tests. Memory & Cognition, 38, 408-418. [PDF]

Marsh, E. J., Agarwal, P. K., & Roediger, H. L. (2009). Memorial consequences of answering SAT II questions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 15, 1-11. [PDF]

Agarwal, P. K., Karpicke, J. D., Kang, S. K., Roediger, H. L., & McDermott, K. B. (2008). Examining the testing effect with open- and closed-book tests. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 22, 861-876. [PDF]

 

Invited Book Chapters

Pyc, M. A., Agarwal, P. K., & Roediger, H. L. (2014). Test-enhanced learning. In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.), Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum. APA Society for the Teaching of Psychology. [PDF]

Roediger, H. L., Agarwal, P. K., Kang, S. H. K., & Marsh, E. J. (2010). Benefits of testing memory: Best practices and boundary conditions. In G. M. Davies & D. B. Wright (Eds.), New frontiers in applied memory (pp. 13-49). Brighton, U.K.: Psychology Press. [PDF]

Roediger, H. L., Weinstein, Y., & Agarwal, P. K. (2010). Forgetting: Preliminary considerations. In S. Della Sala (Ed.), Forgetting (pp. 1-22). Hove, U.K.: Psychology Press. [PDF]

 

Additional Publications

Agarwal, P. K., Lange, R., & Metcalf, L. A. (2012). Illinois’ growth model approach using the value table method. Illinois State Board of Education, Springfield, IL. [PDF]

Agarwal, P. K. (2011). Examining the relationship between fact learning and higher order learning via retrieval practice. Doctoral dissertation, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO.

White, B. R., & Agarwal, P. K. (2011). The principal report: The state of school leadership in Illinois. Illinois Education Research Council, Edwardsville, IL. [PDF]

Agarwal, P. K. (2003, October/November). College life in the Internet age. Upgrade, 14-15. [PDF]

Agarwal, P. K. (2001). If I could make a school. Learning & Leading with Technology, 29, 28-31. [PDF]