Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Testing Effect in Free Recall Is Associated with Enhanced Organizational Processes

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Testing Effect in Free Recall Is Associated with Enhanced Organizational Processes

Article excerpt

In two experiments with categorized lists, we asked whether the testing effect in free recall is related to enhancements in organizational processing. During a first phase in Experiment 1, subjects studied one list over eight consecutive trials, they studied another list six times while taking two interspersed recall tests, and they learned a third list in four alternating study and test trials. On a test 2 days later, recall was directly related to the number of tests and inversely related to the number of study trials. In addition, increased testing enhanced both the number of categories accessed and the number of items recalled from within those categories. One measure of organization also increased with the number of tests. In a second experiment, different groups of subjects studied a list either once or twice before a final criterial test, or they studied the list once and took an initial recall test before the final test. Prior testing again enhanced recall, relative to studying on the final test a day later, and also improved category clustering. The results suggest that the benefit of testing in free recall learning arises because testing creates retrieval schemas that guide recall.

A robust finding is that testing a person's memory for previously learned material enhances long-term retention, relative to restudying the material for an equivalent amount of time (e.g., Carrier & Pashler, 1992; for a review, see Roediger & Karpicke, 2006a). This finding, known as the testing effect, has been demonstrated using a wide range of study materials and types of tests, in both laboratory and classroom settings and in various subject populations (e.g., Butler & Roediger, 2007; Gates, 1917; Kang, McDermott, & Roediger, 2007; McDaniel, Anderson, Derbish, & Morrisette, 2007; Roediger & Karpicke, 2006b; Spitzer, 1939; Tse, Balota, & Roediger, in press). Recent years have seen renewed interest among researchers investigating the potential benefits of testing for learning as a means to improving learning in educational settings (McDaniel, Roediger, & McDermott, 2007; Pashler, Rohrer, Cepeda, & Carpenter, 2007).

One limitation with this work is that testing effects typically report improvements in learners' retention of discrete facts (e.g., foreign vocabulary words) without necessarily demonstrating a better understanding of the subject matter through testing (Daniel & Poole, 2009). However, a growing body of research has shown that testing can serve as a versatile learning tool by enhancing the longterm retention of nontested information that is conceptually related to previously retrieved information (Chan, 2009; Chan, McDermott, & Roediger, 2006), by stimulating the subsequent learning of new information (Izawa, 1970; Karpicke, 2009; Szpunar, McDermott, & Roediger, 2008; Tulving & Watkins, 1974) and by permitting better transfer to new questions (Butler, 2010; Johnson & Mayer, 2009; Rohrer, Taylor, & Sholar, 2010). In the present research, we further examine the potential benefits of testing by asking whether testing can improve individuals' learning and retention of the conceptual organization of study materials, relative to studying the materials alone- a question not yet addressed in the literature.

Psychologists have long grappled with questions of how the processes involved in mentally organizing information influence learning and retention (e.g., Ausubel, 1963; Bartlett, 1932; Katona, 1940). One theoretical assumption that has guided much of the cognitive research examining organization and learning was Miller's (1956) conception of recoding, or chunking, in which he argued that the key to learning and retaining large quantities of information was to mentally repackage, or chunk, the study materials into smaller units. Evidence for chunking has come primarily from studies using serial recall and free recall paradigms in which subjects often study and attempt to recall verbal materials such as lists of words over multiple alternating study and test trials (e. …

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