Semin Neurol 2018; 38(04): 449-456
DOI: 10.1055/s-0038-1666983
Review Article
Thieme Medical Publishers 333 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001, USA.

Planning Education for Long-Term Retention: The Cognitive Science and Implementation of Retrieval Practice

Douglas P. Larsen
1   Department of Neurology, Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri
› Author Affiliations
Further Information

Publication History

Publication Date:
20 August 2018 (online)


Educational systems are rarely designed for long-term retention of information. Strong evidence has emerged from cognitive psychology and applied education studies that repeated retrieval of information significantly improves retention compared to repeated studying. This effect likely emerges from the processes of memory consolidation and reconsolidation. Consolidation and reconsolidation are the means by which memories are organized into associational networks or schemas that are created and recreated as memories are formed and recalled. As educators implement retrieval practice, they should consider how various test formats lead to different degrees of schema activation. Repeated acts of retrieval provide opportunities for schemas to be updated and strengthened. Spacing of retrieval allows more consolidated schemas to be reactivated. Feedback provides metacognitive monitoring to ensure retrieval accuracy and can lead to shifts from ineffective to effective retrieval strategies. By using the principles of retrieval practice, educators can improve the likelihood that learners will retain information for longer periods of time.

Glossary of Key Terms

Direct testing effect—The phenomenon in which information that is retrieved as part of taking a test is better retained than information that is simply studied.

Retrieval practice—The process of retrieving information to improve retention.

Encoding—The process by which a stimulus is transformed into a memory in the brain.

Consolidation—The process by which a memory is reorganized and integrated into the neocortical circuits so as to become less dependent on the hippocampus.

Reconsolidation—The reactivation of consolidated memories for updating and strengthening.

Schema—A network of related information.

Retrieval-induced facilitation—The phenomenon of improved retention of information that is related to material that is retrieved but that is not itself tested.

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