Meta-review states: Retrieval Practice Consistently Benefits Student Learning

Retrieval practice has been all the rage for some time now, although someone mentioned to me earlier this week that his mother used to do it as a teacher long for he or she heard about ‘retrieval practice’.

Now a meta-review by Agarwal, Nunes and Blunt shows, based on 49 effect sizes that it benefits all student learning. A good thing of this meta-review is that they really tried to compare apples with apples, as different studies can have – slightly – different practical translations of retrieval practice. And… the only looked at studies done in classrooms only. So, e.g. no experiments with college students in a lab setting.

And the conclusion?

Does retrieval practice improve student learning in school and classroom settings? Based on our literature review, our response for researchers and educators is an unequivocal “yes.” We found a wealth of evidence, based on medium to large effect sizes, that retrieval practice improved learning for a variety of education levels, content areas, experimental designs, retrieval practice timing, final test delays, retrieval and final test formats, and the timing of feedback.

Abstract of the review:

Given the growing interest in retrieval practice among educators, it is valuable to know when retrieval practice does and does not improve student learning—particularly for educators who have limited classroom time and resources. In this literature review, we developed a narrow operational definition for “classroom research” compared to previous reviews of the literature. We screened nearly 2,000 abstracts and systematically coded 50 experiments to establish a clearer picture of benefits from retrieval practice in real world educational settings. Our review yielded 49 effect sizes and a total n = 5,374, the majority of which (57%) revealed medium or large benefits from retrieval practice. We found that retrieval practice improved learning for a variety of education levels, content areas, experimental designs, final test delays, retrieval and final test formats, and timing of retrieval practice and feedback; however, only 6% of experiments were conducted in non-WEIRD countries. Based on our review of the literature, we make eight recommendations for future research and provide educators with a better understanding of the robust benefits of retrieval practice across a range of school and classroom settings.

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