Reaction to “Retrieval practice enhances new learning: The forward effect of testing” by Pastoötter & Bäuml (2014)

Reaction to Pastoötter & Bäuml (2014) by Richard Thripp
EXP 6506 Section 0002: Fall 2015 – UCF, Dr. Joseph Schmidt
November 11, 2015 [Week 12]

This brief literature review discusses the forward effect of testing, which, to me, implies the brain actually changes modes, so to speak, when tested, perhaps becoming more focused and less distractible. This carries over, improving retention for material studied immediately after the test, even if no test is given on the subsequent material. The retrieval explanation (p. 2) may be related. To me, the encoding explanation (p. 2) seems similar to the retrieval explanation, rather than being a distinct counterpoint—the improvements in list segregation following recall testing might be characterized as recoding rather than a retrieval effect. Basically, this would mean that list memories are partly updated upon retrieval, which is a type of encoding similar to the Unix “diff” command or a rolling backup of computer files that only updates files that have been changed. Retrieval would thus enhance memory through the compartmentalization effect the authors’ describe, as well as perhaps an indexing effect similar to a full-text computer search engine, which builds an index of words that speeds search at the cost of increasing data storage and processing requirements. The retrieval process itself may give the brain time to recode memories and compile or improve this index.

The results from studies of testing before misinformation are intriguing; they seem a plausible explanation for the unreliability of eyewitness accounts (p. 3). Though the authors did not discuss implications, I infer that ensuring students have correct understandings of curriculum materials may be more important than generally known. If students are allowed to encode misinformation, whether due to instructor error, vagueness in course material, or student error, it may be especially persistent if testing immediately follows.

Overall, the forward effect of testing is an exciting phenomenon that might help explain other mysteries and improve educational practice, as researchers continue to study it.

Reference

Pastötter, B., & T. Bäuml, K. T. (2014). Retrieval practice enhances new learning: The forward effect of testing. Frontiers in Psychology, 5(286), 1–4. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00286

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