Does Retrieval Practice Enhance Learning and Transfer Relative to Restudy for Term-Definition Facts?

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In many pedagogical contexts, term-definition facts that link a concept term (e.g., “vision”) with its corresponding definition (e.g., “the ability to see”) are learned. Does retrieval practice involving retrieval of the term (given the definition) or the definition (given the term) enhance subsequent recall, relative to restudy of the entire fact? Moreover, does any benefit of retrieval practice for the term transfer to later recall of the definition, or vice versa? We addressed those questions in 4 experiments. In each, subjects first studied term-definition facts and then trained on two thirds of the facts using multiple-choice tests with feedback. Half of the test questions involved recalling terms; the other half involved recalling definitions. The remaining facts were either not trained (Experiment 1) or restudied (Experiments 2–4). A 48-hr delayed multiple-choice (Experiments 1–2) or short answer (Experiments 3a–4) final test assessed recall of all terms or all definitions. Replicating and extending prior research, retrieval practice yielded improved recall and positive transfer relative to no training. Relative to restudy, however, retrieval practice consistently enhanced subsequent term retrieval, enhanced subsequent definition retrieval only after repeated practice, and consistently yielded at best minimal positive transfer in either direction. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

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