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.