Brain Rule 5: Repeat to remember – Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping

Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping
Jeffrey D. Karpicke* and Janell R. Blunt

Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA.


Educators rely heavily on learning activities that encourage elaborative studying, while activities that require students to practice retrieving and reconstructing knowledge are used less frequently. Here, we show that practicing retrieval produces greater gains in meaningful learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. The advantage of retrieval practice generalized across texts identical to those commonly found in science education. The advantage of retrieval practice was observed with test questions that assessed comprehension and required students to make inferences. The advantage of retrieval practice occurred even when the criterial test involved creating concept maps. Our findings support the theory that retrieval practice enhances learning by retrieval-specific mechanisms rather than by elaborative study processes. Retrieval practice is an effective tool to promote conceptual learning about science.

2 Responses to “Brain Rule 5: Repeat to remember – Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping”
  1. Evan Martin says:

    I was really intrigued by this article. Is there any way I can get an example on how to practice retrieval memory? Or is it as easy as reading something and then paraphrasing it to show you comprehend it?

    • brainchemist says:

      Hello Evan,

      I meant to reply sooner, but i’ve been really busy at the lab.

      First off, I thank you for your question. Memory is a subject of great interest to me since it is very related to learning. One of the objectives of this research blog is to analyze articles that investigate learning, memory and cognitive enhancement strategies. I believe that solely reading a textbook and recording notes is not the only or best method at learning. Their are various other more interactive and integrative methods that have been used. I do not have a complete list of learning methods, but i guess now is a good time to start looking at this area.

      To learn new topics in different ways, I have used Audiobooks and Idea Maps. I find both methods to be more efficient, more engaging and better than sole reading.

      Audiobooks are an excellent way for hyperlearning. If you pick up your ipod, you can probably finish a book in a few hours. On the other hand, if you pick up a book, it will take much longer. My honest opinion is that learning by sound is better, faster and more engaging than learning by vision. Again this is my un-researched opinion. I will be putting more time into this area.

      Concept maps on the other hand require an imaginative brain. By default this methods is fun and engaging. Simple concepts maps are efficient and fast to create. Complex and better structured ones (like this one) require a great deal of time and effort. Nonetheless, they are excellent at “re-learning on the fly” or more accurately put: “efficient re-learning”. This method allows you to visually store a picture of interconnected words, in other words you ASSOCIATE concepts. Remembering the position of these words in space and recalling the links between them is thought to enhance your learning experience. I do not recommend them to study for a big exam. They may be better suited to understand a really complex topic for which their are many published books and articles. Its best if you test this method to see if it works for you.

      The article presented here shows that practicing retrieval is a powerful way to improve learning and it is more efficient than elaborative methods like concept maps (or audiobooks). Here is another article that clarifies the science in simple terms.

      The idea is simple. Just CONTEMPLATE. Pick a piece of music and sit in front of a piece of art (a photo or a window with a view of sky trees or or).
      Music and art satisfy Brain rule number 9 which states: stimulate more of your senses.
      CONTEMPLATION is where you sit and rethink what you have learned => memory retrieval. Doing this satisfies brain rule Number 5 which states that you must REPEAT TO REMEMBER. Having satisifed 2 rules in one sitting your brain is active and processing. At the molecular level intersting molecules are being generated boosting your processing and storing power.

      I hope i was able to answer you question.


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