The Testing Effect in a Social Setting: Does Retrieval Practice Benefit a Listener?

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Abstract

Retrieval practice boosts retention relative to other study strategies like restudying, a finding known as the testing effect. In 3 experiments, the authors investigated testing in social contexts. Subjects participated in pairs and engaged in restudy and retrieval practice of vocabulary pairs. During retrieval practice, 1 subject acted as speaker (overt practice); the other subject listened and monitored the speaker’s responses (covert practice). All experiments showed testing effects, with overt practice by speakers enhancing recall relative to restudy after a 2-day delay. In Experiments 1 and 2, covert practice by listeners did not benefit recall as much as overt practice. Only in Experiment 3, when listeners were asked to monitor their own covert retrieval (instead of the speaker’s overt retrieval), did both types of practice convey similar benefits. The results indicate that memory retrieval is not necessarily as beneficial for listeners as for speakers. The practical implication is that the practice of teachers asking questions in class will not yield a positive effect unless special measures are taken to insure students’ effortful covert retrieval.

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