Unsuccessful retrieval attempts enhance subsequent learning.


Taking tests enhances learning. But what happens when one cannot answer a test question-does an unsuccessful retrieval attempt impede future learning or enhance it? The authors examined this question using materials that ensured that retrieval attempts would be unsuccessful. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants were asked fictional general-knowledge questions (e.g., "What peace treaty ended the Calumet War?"). In Experiments 3-6, participants were shown a cue word (e.g., whale) and were asked to guess a weak associate (e.g., mammal); the rare trials on which participants guessed the correct response were excluded from the analyses. In the test condition, participants attempted to answer the question before being shown the answer; in the read-only condition, the question and answer were presented together. Unsuccessful retrieval attempts enhanced learning with both types of materials. These results demonstrate that retrieval attempts enhance future learning; they also suggest that taking challenging tests-instead of avoiding errors-may be one key to effective learning.

DOI: 10.1037/a0015729

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@article{Kornell2009UnsuccessfulRA, title={Unsuccessful retrieval attempts enhance subsequent learning.}, author={Nate Kornell and Matthew J. Hays and Robert A. Bjork}, journal={Journal of experimental psychology. Learning, memory, and cognition}, year={2009}, volume={35 4}, pages={989-98} }