The ability to recall and remember knowledge increases if it is periodically retrieved. The act of retrieval solidifies learning, particularly when feedback is provided.

  • Administer low-stakes quizzes frequently.
  • Encourage students to test their understanding and remind them that the act of testing themselves not only allows them to know what they don’t know, but enhances their ability to retain what they do know.

2.01 Elements of Structures | Simona Socrates:

Four days after each problem set is due, students in 2.01 are given an in-class quiz that tests the problem set concepts. Quizzes are worth 25% of students’ overall grades.

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7.28/7.58 Molecular Biology | Stephen Bell and Tania Baker:

In 7.28/7.58, students are required to answer low-stakes questions on the course's MITx site about each lecture before the beginning of the next lecture. This encourages students to retrieve and consolidate lecture content through frequent testing, which has been shown to be a more effective studying strategy than reviewing content by re-reading text or watching videos only. 

In addition, 7.28/7.58 uses a flash card program to facilitate retrieval of seminal course content. Students in this course need to understand many molecular assays to answer questions on experimental analysis and design. Most of the students in the course have not performed these assays themselves in the lab, making it difficult for students to know when they are used and why. Cerego flash cards are embedded within each unit in MITx to provide students with opportunities to learn and test their knowledge of these assays throughout the course. 

retrieval practiceretrieval practice

14.73 The Challenge of World Poverty | Esther Duflo & Abhijit Banerjee: 

Pop quizzes are randomly administered throughout the semester. In addition to providing opportunities for retrieval, pop-quizzes are “a terrific tool to ensure that students came to class prepared…ready to contribute their own thoughts and ideas based on the readings.” In 14.73 pop quizzes count towards 8% of the overall course grade.

21L.705 Old English and Beowulf | Arthur Bahr:

In this course, students learn the basics of Old English grammar and vocabulary to read excerpts of Beowulf and other Old English classics.  Retrieval is promoted by 1) by starting each class with a vocabulary quiz and 2) providing mock exams, which allow students to test their own knowledge. Click here for an example of a mock exam from 21L.705.


Key resource:

  • Roediger, H. L., & Butler, A. C. (2011). The critical role of retrieval practice in long-term retention. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15(1), 20–27. DOI


  • Carpenter, S. K., & Pashler, H. (2007). Testing beyond words: Using tests to enhance visuospatial map learning. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14(3), 474–478. DOI 
  • Carpenter, S. K., Pashler, H., Wixted, J. T., & Vul, E. (2008). The effects of tests on learning and forgetting. Memory and Cognition, 36(2), 438–448. DOI 
  • Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students' learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4–58. DOI 
  • Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. (2008). The critical importance of retrieval for learning. Science, 319(5865), 966–968. DOI 
  • Lyle, K. B., & Crawford, N. A. (2011). Retrieving essential material at the end of lectures improves performance on statistics exams. Teaching of Psychology, 38(2), 94–97. DOI 
  • McDaniel, M. A., Agarwal, P. K., Huelser, B. J., Mcdermott, K. B., & Roediger, H. L. (2011). Test-enhanced learning in a middle school science classroom: The effects of quiz frequency and placement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(2), 399–414. DOI 
  • McDaniel, M. A., Thomas, R. C., Agarwal, P. K., Mcdermott, K. B., & Roediger, H. L. (2013). Quizzing in middle‐school science: Successful transfer performance on classroom exams. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 27(3), 360–372. DOI 
  • Roediger, H. L., III, & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). Test-enhanced learning taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychological Science, 17(3), 249–255. DOI 
  • Roediger, H. L., Agarwal, P. K., McDaniel, M. A., & Mcdermott, K. B. (2011). Test-enhanced learning in the classroom: long-term improvements from quizzing. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 17(4), 382–395. DOI 
  • Roediger, H. L., III, Putnam, A. L., & Smith, M. A. (2011). Ten benefits of testing and their applications to educational practice. Psychology of Learning and Motivation (Vol. 55, pp. 1–36). Elsevier. DOI 
  • Wyner, G. (2014). The gallery: a guide to the flash cards thta will teach you your language. In Fluent forever (pp 117-241). Harmony Books.