• To describe retrieval practice
  • To clarify the relationships between retrieval practice and assessment


Retrieval practice involves recalling information from memory (Brown, 2014). When students engage in retrieval practice they have been found to learn more effectively than other methods such as rereading (Karpicke & Blunt, 2011). More recently, a major conclusion of a meta-analysis conducted by Chan et al. (2018) was that “retrieval practice potentiates new learning.” In other words, when learners are continually asked to perform recall, they can more easily learn information they have never seen before. The conclusion builds on the already established finding that retrieval practice can support the relearning of material already seen. Limits do exist, however, as practicing retrieval too often can also impede learning.

To specify the relationship between retrieval practice and assessment, Agarwal (2018) uses the analogy of baking a cake. Three important ingredients for learning include formative assessment, summative assessment and retrieval practice. Formative assessment is like using a toothpick to test whether the cake is finished baking, i.e. monitoring progress towards the learning goal. Summative assessment can be compared to enjoying the cake, i.e. the result of learning. Retrieval practice is ensuring that everything is properly measured and mixed up so that the cake turns out delicious, i.e. enhancing the learning that occurs.

Designing instruction that includes formative assessment, summative assessment and retrieval practice can optimize the learning experiences of students.


Agarwal, P. (2018). Retrieval Practice. Available at: www.retrievalpractice.org

Brown, P.C. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Chan, J. C. K., Meissner, C. A., & Davis, S. D. (2018). Retrieval Potentiates New Learning: A Theoretical and Meta-Analytic Review. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/bul0000166

Karpicke, J.D., & Blunt, J.R. (2011) Retrieval practice produces more learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. Science 331(6018), 772-775.