Retrieval Practice

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Retrieval practice

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When you study, your goal is to learn, retain, AND RECALL the information you have studied.  Retrieval Practice (or self-testing) is proven to be one of the most effective ways to make that happen.  Retrieval practice is the process of implementing a system of practice testing into your study sessions  Creating flash cards, practice quizzes, and/or summary charts are all examples of retrieval practice. The goal in utilizing retrieval practice is to train the brain to recall material you’ve previously learned without the aid of other study materials.

Continually re-reading material from your textbook or notes do not challenge your mind to recall the information; rather, it makes your mind familiar with the information, giving you a potentially false comfort that you are ready for the exam. To keep from making this mistake, you will find a few ideas below to help implement retrieval practice for your courses.


Think about a piece of information you had to learn as a kid (phone number, house address, etc.).  How did you learn it?  First, you were introduced to it and told that this is important to remember.  You spent time studying it.  But what happened next?  You were “tested” on that material frequently.  At times it might have been more challenging to remember the information than at other times, but as you were continually asked “what is your address?” it became easier and easier to recall the information.

This is the idea behind retrieval practice!  You are introduced to the material, and then through a series of self-testing and review of the information, you are improving your long-term memory of that information.  It even works better when under stress!  Follow this link to read more details regarding the study shown in the graphic below.

retreival practice results


If you’d like to read more details on research that has been done to prove the effectiveness of this study method, click on the link provided.


A few key things to remember:

1. Retrieval practice should be challenging:  If your study sessions are simple and easy, forgetting the information will likely be simple and easy as well!  After studying the information, allow some time to “forget” the information before utilizing retrieval practice.  This leads to better learning over the long-term.

2. Get immediate feedback after retrieval practice:  This ensures you are not learning incorrect information and that you get the most out of your studying.


Ways to use retrieval practice in your study routine:

1. Quizlet:  Quizlet is a great way to implement retrieval practice! Quizlet is an excellent online resource to make flashcards.  It can also modify your flashcards into a mock test, a matching game, or a “gravity” game to promote quick recall. To receive the full benefit from this, make your own Quizlet rather than using an existing one. The creating of  flashcards assists with the learning process! Here is a link to the website:


2. Create Flashcards: Writing out flashcards (the “old fashioned way”) is the most engaging route when it comes to making flashcards.

Have a plan for when and how often you will review your cards…AND make them colorful!

For more helpful hints on how to make good flashcards, watch this video!

 3.  Write down everything you know about a topic:  Make a list of topics, whip out a piece of paper and write it all down! All you need is a pen and paper! But for those of you who have neither, head over to the Berntsen Library, rent some markers and head to a study room!


4.  Create practice quizzes and tests:  Form a test review group! Swapping notes and quizzing each other will put to test your individual studying. Be sure to look for 1 to 2 people who are dedicated students that you are comfortable with and who share similar academic goals. Studying with friends is fine, but beware of off-topic conversation!

For more tips on how to create practice tests/quizzes from your textbook, click on the link below.


Hopefully, one of these four methods appeal to you! If you would like to discuss these ideas further, or look into other ways to implement retrieval practice into your study routine, please visit the CAPSS office in Nazareth Hall (4th Floor, N4230/4228) and talk to Jonathan Flaa (or email him at