Why Retrieval Practice is the Best Study Strategy

Why Retrieval Practice is the Best Study Strategy

Every day teachers tell their students to study.

Every day students go home and… well,…

They don’t know what to do.


Why Retrieval Practice is the Best Study Strategy 

Retrieval Practice is a fancy term for good old fashion practice of asking and answering questions. It turns out this age-old strategy of study strengthens our memory.


What is Retrieval Practice? 

Retrieval practice is asking questions and recalling information to form an answer to the question. This process forces us to examine what we know and what we do not know. 

We may think we know the answer to a question, but when we struggle to recall information, we exercise our memory. This is just like we would exercise a muscle to the point of struggle or fatigue – and this exercise strengthens our memory.

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What happens when we cannot recall the correct answer to a question? 

This is the opportunity to learn. Go over these questions by answering actively through writing down the answer and then setting it aside to ask and reply again later.

How Can Students Implement Retrieval Practice? 

A best practice in study skills is for students to create questions for whatever they need to study. This could be from notes they have taken in class, guided notes from the teacher, or a text. 

Students should read and develop questions and then answer them. Processing information in this way is another method of getting data into our long-term memory.

How Can Parents Help Their Children Use Retrieval Practice? 

Parents can ask their children questions. However, parents need to look at this practice as the opportunity for their child to learn. 

The student may not know all the answers at this point in time. The practice of retrieving information and then sorting out the questions they do not yet know is an integral part of this process. So no judgment just support. 

Some Retrieval Practice Ideas You Can Try

  • Flashcards of questions with answers on the back (check out this free printable flashcard maker)
  • Quizzes (Both oral and written)
  • Practice Tests with different ways of asking such as
    • Multiple choice
    • True False
    • Short Answer
    • Essay questions (these really show understanding)
  • Going over Previous Tests
  • Have the child create a test with answer key
  • Let your child test you (this is one your children will love!)

When to Use the Retrieval Study Strategy? 

Retrieval practice is a study strategy, not a test. Retrieval needs to happen during the learning process and not just at the time of assessment.

An essential part of retrieval practice is sorting out what we know from what we do not know. Some students study hard for tests, but they review what they already know. Then they do not do well on the test. 

The students then study “harder” the next time they have a test, but again they study what they already know. They do not do well again, and it is a vicious cycle. 

This type of study technique sorts out what we know from what we do not know so we can focus on the gaps in our knowledge. Teaching and learning are often thought of as putting information “in.” 

Cramming, re-reading the text, and notes may help us do well on a test (the operative word being may). However, this is only short-term learning. Read the research on that. How many times have you studied and passed the test only not to be able to remember anything from the test later the same day? 

Retrieval practice during the learning process challenges our memory. This challenge or struggle helps the information get into our long-term memory. 

Retrieval Practice Makes Learning Active

Just like when we do bicep curls to improve our biceps’ strength, we often work to the point of fatigue. Fatigue for our brains is frustration. It is the struggle of retrieval practice that leads to long-term learning. 

This long-term learning is more than just memorizing information. Retrieval practice increases understanding. This means that students will be able to apply this information to new situations.

The next time a test looms overhead, give retrieval practice a try. 

Here are the steps

  • Ask and answer questions
  • Sort out what you do not know and focus on that 
  • Let your brain and memory develop through the struggle.


Additional Resources to Help Your Child Study

If you need more resources and strategies to get your child reading 20 minutes a day check out the links below. 

Do you have a child that needs more one on one assistance?  

We offer one-on-one special education tutoring that can be done from anywhere the student is! Why? Because our special education experts conduct their sessions online!

Get started with a free consultation today!


Why Retrieval Practice is the Best Study Strategy
Retrieval practice is a study strategy that you can implement today that will boost long term learning. Read on to find out why it works!

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Pamela Hague

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