What Types of Learning Are Enhanced by a Cued Recall Test?

Article excerpt

In two experiments, we investigated what types of learning benefit from a cued recall test After initial exposure to a word pair (A+B), subjects experienced either an intervening cued recall test (A[arrow right]?) with feedback, or a restudy presentation (A[arrow right]B). The final test could be cued recall in the same (A[arrow right]?) or opposite (?[arrow right]B) direction, or free recall of just the cues (Recall As) or just the targets (Recall Bs). All final tests revealed a benefit for testing as opposed to restudying. Tests produced a direct benefit for information that was retrieved on the intervening test (B). This benefit also "spilled over" to facilitate recall of information that was present on the test but not retrieved (A). Both theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Memory tests are commonly used to measure the accuracy or speed of memory. They can also be used to modify memory-sometimes in a beneficial way. Duchastel (1981), for example, showed that students remembered textbook information better if they completed test questions on the material instead of engaging in an unrelated activity. Furthermore, a number of studies have shown that testing is even more beneficial than additional study presentations (Carpenter & DeLosh, 2006; Carrier & Pashler, 1992; Kuo & Hirshman, 1996, 1997; Wheeler, Ewers, & Buonanno, 2003). This benefit for tested as opposed to restudied information is often referred to as the testing effect (see Dempster, 1996, for a review).

We can shed light on why the testing effect occurs by asking what types of learning can benefit from testing. Are testing benefits confined to the very items that were retrieved on the test? Or do they also occur for items that were on the test but not retrieved? If the benefits are confined to the retrieved items, do they manifest only when the final and intervening tests are the same? We examined these questions using cued recall (A[arrow right]B). Previous research indicates that a cued recall test (A[arrow right]?) is more beneficial than restudy (A+B) when the final test is cued recall in the same direction (A[arrow right]?) (Carpenter & DeLosh, 2005; Carrier & Pashler, 1992; Cull, 2000; Izawa, 1969, 1992). Do these benefits also occur when the final test is cued recall in the opposite direction (?[arrow right]B), or free recall of just the targets (Recall Bs) or cues (Recall As)?

This question has clear practical implications. Many researchers have argued that the testing effect may have important and unexploited educational potential (e.g., Chan, McDermott, & Roediger, 2006; Dempster, 1989, 1996; Glover, 1989; McDaniel & Fisher, 1991; Roediger & Karpicke, 2006). Before accepting this assertion, however, we must know whether these benefits occur for all sorts of memory, or solely for one. For example, one's enthusiasm for using testing to enhance the learning of the German-English correspondence Hund[Lef-right arrow]Dog would be tempered if a test (Hund[arrow right]?) enhanced forward recall but not backward recall (?[arrow right]Dog). In the present study, we explored the breadth of the testing effect to determine when testing might be beneficial or harmful in comparison with restudy opportunities.


In Session 1, subjects were presented with 40 weakly related cue-target pairs. After a study presentation, subjects were given an additional chance to learn each pair. This took the form of either restudying the pair (A+B) or talcing a cued recall test (A[arrow right]?) immediately followed by a presentation of the pair (A+B). These two types of learning opportunities are referred to here as study trials and test/study trials, respectively, and their duration was always equal. The following day (Session 2), subjects completed one of four different types of final tests: cued recall in the same (A[arrow right]?) or opposite (?[arrow right]B) direction relative to the test/study trial of Day 1, or free recall over just the cues (Recall As) or just the targets (Recall Bs). …


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