Retrieval practice

View chaptersBack to home

Recalling things from memory is a more effective learning strategy than re-reading.

Retrieval practice and why it works?

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.

Retrieval practice works because learning is deeper and more durable when it is effortful. Retrieval strengthens the memory and interrupts the ‘forgetting’ process.

How can this help me be a better tutor?

  1. Encourage your students to make summary notes, however tell them how they should use those notes. Rather than re-reading them again and again, we recommend that students look at one section, look up from their notes, then close their eyes and try to recall what they have just read inside their head or out loud (talking to themselves). This way, they won’t fall into the trap of thinking they are being productive when all they are really doing is working hard on something unproductive and not useful for their learning.
  2. Another variation of this technique would be for students to re-read their summary notes and write down questions of things they don’t understand, or things that are important, as they do so. Take the following example: ‘The loss leaders pricing strategy involves a business selling its products at or below the cost of the good/service sold. This means that the business will not make any profit from each unit sold unless the customer also purchases other products/services with it." After reading this, a student may write the question: ‘Why does the loss leaders pricing strategy have the potential to increase a business’s market share/encourage customer loyalty?’ The idea is for students to write down pertinent questions that jog their memory of the important points.
  3. Students should always do hand-written practice exams without using their notes, and under time pressure (allocate roughly 1.5 minutes per mark for short answer questions). This way, they are training under exam conditions and are forced to retrieve from their memory any knowledge they have on the topic. This is also a very fast way to identify which areas a student needs to focus more on.
  4. Flashcards are another good example of this technique.

Examples of advanced retrieval practice

When your students need to remember something important (e.g. Syllabus keywords/points), acronyms can be very useful and they can also be used in conjunction with retrieval practice techniques for enhanced memory. For example, students should devise acronyms in the ‘notes’ section of their phone, and then screenshot these notes and make it their lock screen. Then, every time before they unlock their phone, they have to revise what the acronyms mean in their head.

Another powerful technique to memorise key information such as the Syllabus is to advise your students to place a copy of it on the fridge or above their desk (somewhere they will always look). Next, tell them to start looking at it and reading it out loud (to themselves) once in the morning as soon as they get up, and once at night, right before they go to sleep. Each time, they should break the Syllabus up into chunks and focus on memorising a little bit at a time.

The KEY is this: Once they read it out loud once, they should turn away and try to remember the words they just read out. If they can’t remember, they should look back again, then look away and try to remember again until they get it right.

Retrieval practice doesn’t have to be as complicated as any of the above. It can be as simple as a student trying to recall in their head (or by writing it down) everything that they have studied in class when on the bus/train home from school every day.