Six top tips on how to use retrieval practice in the classroom

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Not all revision techniques are equal: one of the most effective methods is retrieval practice, also known as the testing effect.

Retrieval practice refers to any activity that forces you to generate an answer to a question. It has consistently been proven to help students improve retention and recall (and subsequently exam performance). So, how can we put this into practice to harness the testing effect? 

1. Past papers

 Past papers are one of the most useful and accessible methods of retrieval practice. They are particularly useful as they are specific to the exams students will take, rather than just general questions. By doing past papers – most of which are free online or available through your exam boards – you can use retrieval practice with content that is directly relevant to the exams.

2. Multiple choice tests

 Multiple choice tests are particularly useful at the earlier stages of revision, as students don't need to know the answer instinctively, they just need to recognise the correct answer from a set of options. This is still an effective method of retrieval practice as students are responding to a question, but you can select the right answer rather than create it from scratch. Multiple choice tests may be useful before you use past papers.

3. Essay answers

Essays are useful retrieval practice both within past papers, and on their own. This is because they require you to synthesise multiple pieces of information into fluent prose and analyse them, which is more than just recalling isolated facts. Research has shown that the more you do with information, the more likely you are to recall it.

4. Answering a question aloud

Answering a spoken question is a useful form of retrieval practice as replying aloud makes you think about the information differently and form quick connections. Other research has found that reading things aloud is more beneficial than in silence as it prompts a range of senses and actions.

5. Flashcards

Flashcards are great because all the questions are directly relevant to the exam, rather than being generic questions about the topic. You know what students need to be tested on the most so you can tailor the questions to their weak spots.

6. Get students to ask each other questions

One of the most effective methods of learning is teaching others. This approach combines teaching others with answering questions so is doubly effective for helping students learn. It also allows pupils to involve others in their learning, which is useful as having a supportive group is important for doing well at school. Answering questions from someone lets pupils discover how well they understand the material.

Final thought...

Retrieval practice is one of the most effective ways to revise. By answering questions rather than merely reading or highlighting information, students are in the best position possible to succeed and remember as much of your subjects as possible. Past papers, essays, multiple choice tests and flashcards are a great way of doing it.

This is an edited version of a blog that originally ran on Inner Drive's website here

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