We have talked extensively about the benefits of retrieval practice on our blog (e.g. here, here, and here). After all, there is more than a century’s worth of research demonstrating its effectiveness for long-term retention (1). The vast majority of this work examines post-testing, providing retrieval opportunities after learning has already occurred. What is far less studied is the idea of pre-testing. While there have been some studies looking at the impact of pre-testing, the results of those studies have been mixed, with some finding promising effects (2), others finding mixed results (3), and some finding very little at all (4).
Recently a new pre-testing study was published, looking at the delayed effects of pre-testing in an authentic classroom (5). That is, this study had less control than some others, meaning that students could engage with material in different ways (more on that later).
In this study, undergraduate students who were enrolled in a large section of a research methods course were given pretests before three lectures during the 10-week course. For each lecture, six concepts were identified that were going to be taught during the lecture. For each of those concepts, 2 questions were written on the topic for a total of 12 questions.