Examples of retrieval practice (and a bit on MC tests)

In the book Uncommon Sense Teaching, it states that ‘Good examples of retrieval practice include using flash cards or merely looking away from a page to see if you can retrieve the key idea or ideas on the page.’ They also mention jot recall, which is similar to the 30 second habit.. Having read Elkind’s Hurried Child, Hirsh-Pasek et al’s Einstein Never Used Flash Cards, Peter Gray’s Freedom to Learn and a host of other similar books and articles, it seems that flash cards should be held back until students are older.

In this article, Karpicke writes ‘group discussions, reciprocal teaching, and questioning techniques (both formal ones, such as providing classroom quizzes, and informal ones, such as integrating questions within lectures) are all likely to engage retrieval processes to a certain extent. Spending time actively attempting to retrieve and reconstruct one’s knowledge is a simple yet powerful way to enhance long-term, meaningful learning.’ In the article, Karpicke also shows why concept mapping isn’t as effective.

In their (highly recommended) book Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Brown et al write ‘When you read a text or study lecture notes, pause periodically to ask yourself questions like these, without looking in the text: What are the key ideas? What terms or ideas are new to me? How would I define them? How do the ideas relate to what I already know?
Many textbooks have study questions at the ends of the chapters, and these are good fodder for self-quizzing. Generating questions for yourself and writing down the answers is also a good way to study.
Set aside a little time every week throughout the semester to quiz yourself on the material in a course, both the current week’s work and material covered in prior weeks.
When you quiz yourself, check your answers to make sure that your judgments of what you know and don’t know are accurate.
Use quizzing to identify areas of weak mastery, and focus your studying to make them strong.
The harder it is for you to recall new learning from memory, the greater the benefit of doing so. Making errors will not set you back, so long as you check your answers and correct your mistakes…
Compared to rereading, self-quizzing can feel awkward and frustrating, especially when the new learning is hard to recall. It does not feel as productive as rereading your class notes and highlighted passages of text feels. But what you don’t sense when you’re struggling to retrieve new learn- ing is the fact that every time you work hard to recall a memory, you actually strengthen it. If you restudy something after failing to recall it, you actually learn it better than if you had not tried to recall it. The effort of retrieving knowledge or skills strengthens its staying power and your ability to recall it in the future.’

Make It stick’s website has a couple of cool graphics - here and here.
As one of the graphics says, essays rather than multiple choice questions are a far superior way to test. I was fortunate that throughout my schooling and university education all my tests were essay based. The first multiple choice test I ever did was on the first MOOC I ever took - on Saylor Academy in 2011. Even through I’ve since done 100s (or 1000s?) of MC tests on MOOCs, I’ve never really enjoyed the experience. However, many of the essays I’ve written for MOOCs are still very clear in my memory.


I’d say this relates to Bloom’s Taxonomy (higher order thinking) which makes me wonder that tests are not made the same. I’ve seen some brilliant and creative solutions to make MC tests more effective. Some strategies I can cite from the top of my head are paraphrasing the content and the use of pictures/animation (both of which Barb’s using in this course). However, there is a clear limitation to this testing approach in terms of strengthening neural links.

In the higher order thinking world, they advocate for a project-based curriculum. I’d say it’s certainly ideal for optimizing learning but it’s also time consuming for learners and teachers. Does it pay off? I think so…


As I was reading your text, I started reading out loud to make sure I was catching every piece of information within it. After reading it, I tried to apply what you said we should do. So, I asked myself “what do you remember about the text?” “What was it about?”

And, what I noticed is that concepts as “mind-maps don’t work so well” were easier to remember, Because I had already been familiar with them. However, the piece of information was much harder to remember, as it was my first time learning on the topic.

These questions through the course remind me of my days at school and how I used to study. I can say I actually enjoy asking those questions and testing myself whether I truly know the subject.

Now, I’m thinking about how I can bring more of these findings to my classes. . .


I’ve been reading through quite a few of the articles at the nesslabs site that Connie linked on another thread. One of them listed ways to be curious. I think it’s a good thing to bring into classes, so as to help students take control of their own learning. Reminds me a bit of that famous Robert Frost quote ‘I am not a teacher , but an awakener

  1. Ask questions: randomly ask yourself why? and how? when reading something or chatting with friends. You can even write down some of these questions to take the time to find the answers later.
  2. Read outside of your field: pick a type of book you would never naturally buy in a bookstore. Is it classic poetry? Non-fiction? A cookbook? Something about geology? Read it just for the sake of reading it.
  3. Be inquisitive with people: choose someone in your entourage that you haven’t seen in a while, and invite them for coffee. Make it your goal to learn as much as possible about their interests. Take that approach any time you meet a new person.
  4. Practice saying less: this is linked to the previous one. Try to talk less and to listen more.
  5. Immerse yourself in a topic: select a topic that you find interesting, and push the limits of your curiosity by going deep. This means reading lots of articles, books, and research papers, watching TED talks, listening to podcasts.
  6. Write: take it to the next level by writing about this topic. This is exactly what I’m doing here. By committing to write on this blog, I get to explore new topics and cultivate my curiosity.
  7. Carry a notebook: it will make it easier to remember topics you’re curious about and want to either research or write about later.
  8. Learn about yourself: curiosity doesn’t need to only be outward. Explore your feelings, ask yourself about your goals and behaviours, or even research your past and family history.
  9. Slow down: productivity can be the enemy of creativity. Take the time to let your mind wander and let questions pop into your head.
  10. Hang out with a child: playing and talking with a child is probably one of the best reminders of our potential for curiosity.

Thanks, very interesting! But number 10, hanging out with a child, only works if you are not constantly hanging out with a child, because you might get curious about things but then you don’t have the time or mental space to concentrate on eg reading a book or article about the thing you got curious about :slight_smile: Very frustrating at times!


this is wonderful and I do agree with all 10 points about how we can nurture our curiosity. Inherently, we are all born curious and as we grow, we tend to move away from this inherent trait, we have many opperunities to nurture our curiosity, still, strangely, many do not find it important or just ignore that! Now, on MOOCs, we can learn from and with many curious minds, we have the opportunity to nurture and cultivate our curiosity.
We need to save this curiosity, if we want to help solve many new problems or the new world and remain human. Continuous learning to nurture curiosity is so much essential to save ourselves from becoming machines and go after learning for material goals and we miss out on how curiosity may get ignored. We all need to awaken, be open to learning from children! :slight_smile:


I know what you mean…still, I love spending time with children. However busy I am, they just change my mood and I always find time to enjoy their company and answer their questions!
As a parent, we may feel overwhelmed with many responsibilities and may feel tired to answer all questions. That is natural. Still, enjoy the time with your children, their baby days and age under 5 are precious.


yeah, often, I do not enjoy multiple-choice questions and sometimes I enjoy too! It depends on what I am learning …if those questions enhance my understanding and challenge me --I truly enjoy it! :slight_smile:

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I like asking Whys! Dr. Oakley talks about beaking material into chunks in previous course LHTL.
Breaking complicated matter into smaller pieces/ basic elements that can be easily absorbed/learned - building a blocks of tru knowledge - like going back to First Principles (Aristotle).

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