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KSU study finds getting answers right on practice tests improves memory

By John Published: June 16, 2011

Kent State University graduate student Kalif Vaughn conducted an interesting experiment to determine if getting answers right on practice tests would improve recall not only of the thing you're trying to remember, but things that trigger that memory and things associated with what you're trying to remember.

Vaughn and KSU Associate Professor Katherine Rawson tested students on how well they remembered the English equivalent of a Lithuanian word. After successful practice tests (correct answers), they not only recalled the English equivalents better (target memory), they also did a better job recalling the Lithuanian words (cue memory) and the word pair (associative memory), according to the Association for Psychological Science, which  will publish their work in an upcoming issue of the association's journal, Psychological Science

''We've known for over 100 years that testing is good for memory,'' says Kent State University psychology graduate student Kalif Vaughn. Psychologists have proven in a myriad of experiments that ''retrieval practice''correctly producing a studied itemincreases the likelihood that you'll get it right the next time. ''But we didn't know why.''

In the past, many researchers have believed that testing is good for memory, but only for the exact thing you are trying to remember: so-called ''target memory.'' If you're asked to recall the Lithuanian equivalent of an English word, say, you will get good at remembering the Lithuanian, but you won't necessarily remember the English. Vaughn wondered whether practice testing might boost other types of memory too.

It does. This is the finding of a study he conducted with Kent State psychologist  Katherine A. Rawson,which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Says Vaughn: ''With retrieval practice, everything gets substantially better.''

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