ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2015, Vol. 47 ›› Issue (7): 928-938.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2015.00928

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Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning in Multiple-list Tests with Higher-Order Skills

ZHOU Aibao; YANG Tiancheng; CHENG Chen; MA Xiaofeng; ZHAO Jing   

  1. (Guidance Center on Student Learning, School of Psychology, Northwest Normal University, Lanzhou 730070, China)
  • Received:2014-09-24 Published:2015-07-25 Online:2015-07-25
  • Contact: ZHOU Aibao, E-mail:


Learning is usually thought to occur during episodes of studying, while the retrieval of information on testing simply serves to assess what was learned. Test-enhanced learning, or the use of tests and quizzes to engage retrieval processes, has been widely demonstrated as an effective strategy for facilitating fact learning. Retrieval practice can not only promote single content learning but also be beneficial for multiple-context. However, the impact of testing effects on sequential item learning remains unclear. According to Bloom’s taxonomy of knowledge and skills in education, which Anderson revised, training of higher-order skills has been increasingly valued. To this end, current research has established the generality of test-enhanced learning as well as pointed to conditions under higher-order skills are manifested. We examined whether retrieval practice facilitates higher-order learning in multiple-article test format. Across two experiments, participants engaged in either retrieval practice or restudied with basic concept questions and higher-order questions. In Experiment 1, 60 college students studied three passages in the initial learning conditions and then answered concept and higher-order multiple-choice questions. After five minutes, participants were administered both concept and higher-order tests that were intended to examine the type of skill differences. In Experiment 2, 60 college students studied five passages in the initial learning conditions and then answered higher-order short-answer questions. After five minutes, participants were administered higher-order tests. In both experiments, higher-order skills were considered to comprise the ability to understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create categories of a revised Bloom’s taxonomy of knowledge and skills in education. Experiment 1 indicated a significant main effect for learning strategies. Results also revealed that for each taxonomy level, the retrieval practice group’s performance and reaction time were better than those of the restudying group. An in-depth analysis showed that retrieval practice greatly contributed to concept question performance. Experiment 2 replicated the results of Experiment 1 with five articles for reading and more appropriate short-answer questions. Thus, Experiment 2 extends the findings of Experiment 1. Results reflected differences in the final test between the groups, especially for the apply and analyze dimensions. Nonetheless, we found no significant difference in the evaluate and create categories. Results suggested that retrieval practice is an effective method for learning, not by merely embodying the memory of single content but also broadening multiple contexts and promoting the development of higher-order skills. To some degree, it effectively reduced the memory load in learning. The current study explored the relationship between retrieval practice and multiple-list learning. Results of the analyses of internal mechanisms support the episodic context account. The episodic context account explains the finding that retrieval practice is more likely to be beneficial for more difficult retrieval tasks. In addition, combining the context-change hypothesis and proactive interference theory suggests the superiority of testing effects in multiple-list learning. The development of higher-order skills is a desired outcome of education. Practice testing is one of the most well-established strategies for improving student learning.

Key words: retrieval practice, multiple-list learning, high-order skills