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Long-term Retention of Prose Following Testing

Testing enhances later recall by highschool students of a history text

This transcript was sourced from Ammons Scientific.

  • P. Duchastel and R. Nungester (1981); “Long-term Retention of Prose Following Testing”. Psychological Reports: Volume 49, Issue 2, pg470. doi: 10.2466/pr0.1981.49.2.470

Long-Term Retention of Prose Following Testing

P. Duchastel and R. Nungester

The American College, Bryn Mawr

Taking a test on content which has just been studied is known to enhance later retention of the material studied1. This testing effect is generally examined through a retention test administered a few (typically two) weeks after initial learning and testing. The present study examined this phenomenon with respect to long-term benefits which might result from testing. This was accomplished through the administration of a retention test 5 months following a typical study of effects of testing.

In the initial study2, high-school students studied a brief history text, then took a test on the passage, spent equivalent time reviewing the passage, or went on to an unrelated filler task. A retention test given 2 weeks later indicated that the test condition resulted in significantly better retention than either the review or the control conditions.

Five months later, these same 83 students were administered a 12-item multiple-choice test (five options per item) similar to the retention test they had completed earlier. Retention after 5 months was less over-all, but the data closely parallel the data obtained on the 2-week retention test. The respective means and standard deviations are as follows: Test group: M = 6.0, σ = 2.3; Review group: M = 5.1, σ = 1.7; Control group: M = 4.8, σ = 2.1 The analysis of variance of these data gave an F2.80 of 2.4 which was, however, only significant at p < .10.

While the analysis did not replicate the strong significant differences found after 2 weeks, it is nevertheless of interest that the order of the group means after 5 months exactly follows prediction and closely parallels the order of the group means after 2 weeks. A study with more power (for instance, with more subjects) would probably establish clearly significant group differences. In conclusion, the data indicate the possibility that taking a test immediately after learning may lead to an advantage in retention (although a small one) even at a much later time. Testing may thus be a powerful way of enhancing long-term retention.

  1. Duchastel, P. “Retention of prose materials: the effect of testing”. Journal of Educational Research, 1979, 72, 399-300.↩︎

  2. Nungester, R. & Duchastel, P. “Testing versus review: effects on retention”. Journal of Educational Psychology, in press.↩︎

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