Using Retrieval Practice to Encourage Memory Retention

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

July 27, 2021

I have been listening to podcasts on walks. Recently, I listened to an episode from the Tea for Teaching podcast on retrieval practice. This was not an unfamiliar concept for me, but it is a concept I have admittedly failed to use as much as I should.

According to the website,, retrieval practice is “a strategy in which bringing information to mind enhances and boosts learning. Deliberately recalling information forces us to pull our knowledge “out” and examine what we know.” In other words, being forced to recall information helps with memory retention. This has been proven over and over again in studies (resources below).

When I say retrieval practice, I suspect most of you are thinking about tests and quizzes. While both of those are examples of how retrieval practice can be incorporated into a class, they are not the only options. In the podcast I referenced earlier, the guest Dr. Michelle Miller, shared how she uses Kahoot to create a gamified low stakes quiz experience. Other ways to include retrieval practice in a class setting are to use flashcards, practice problems, group discussions where students must recall information, etc. One strategy I particularly like is the “brain dump.” This is where we ask learners to write down everything they remember. Additional resource examples and downloads are available at

Librarians can incorporate these strategies into instruction sessions, and add retrieval practice activities in tutorials. In tutorials, adding opportunities for learners to recall information they heard or read can make the tutorial more worthwhile because the learners are more likely to remember the content.

The work we do in instruction is important, and our goal should be for individuals to remember what we share. Using retrieval practice is a great strategy to help with that.

*One thing to note is that when used with strategies such as interleaving (see my previous post on this topic), retrieval practice can have an even greater impact.

Recommended Readings

Argawal, P. K., & Bain, P., M. (2019). Powerful teaching: Unleash the science of learning. Jossey-Bass.

Brown, P., Roediger III, H., L., McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Belknap Press.

Karpicke, J. D., & Blunt, J. R. (2011). Retrieval practice produces more learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. Science, 331(6018), 772-775.

Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger III, H. L. (2007). Expanding retrieval practice promotes short-term retention, but equally spaced retrieval enhances long-term retention. Journal of experimental psychology: learning, memory, and cognition, 33(4), 704.

Roediger III, H. L., & Butler, A. C. (2011). The critical role of retrieval practice in long-term retention. Trends in cognitive sciences, 15(1), 20-27.

Smith, M. A., Roediger III, H. L., & Karpicke, J. D. (2013). Covert retrieval practice benefits retention as much as overt retrieval practice. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 39(6), 1712.

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent speaker on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her professional interests include information literacy, educational technology, library and information science education, teacher identity, and academic development. Please read Lauren’s other posts about skills for special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets


Similar Posts

Leave a Comment

Comments are reviewed and must adhere to our comments policy.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This