A test of the testing effect for long-term learning and educational practice

The testing or retrieval practice effect is a well-known finding that study followed by test improves long-term memory for the studied material more than study followed by a further study session (although short-term memory is the same for both). This finding applies to verbatim, declarative memory, but the effect on long-term learning of skills and procedures is unknown and this project will examine the testing effect for both declarative memory and procedural learning.

Department: Psychology

Supervised by: Dr Philip Beaman

The Placement Project

Retrieval practice (“the testing effect”) is known to improve long-term memory performance -- more than extra study sessions (including frequently used techniques recommended by study advisers, such as "mind-maps"). Study-test sessions produce greater long-term learning than study-study sessions, although learning over the short-term is equivalent. It has been suggested that this may have educational benefits. However, education typically involves acquiring an understanding of the subject that goes beyond simple veridical recall of the information (although accurate memory of studied material may help with understanding). The placement will examine the effect of retrieval practice on two learning outcomes - exact memory for the content of studied examples and performance on new examples of the same problem type. In this way, the impact of extra study and retrieval practice on memory for original materials and learning by example can be compared and the potential educational benefits of both, perhaps for different types of learning, can be assessed.


During the bursary period the student will carry out an experiment on learning by example (where volunteers will be asked to both remember and simple formulae such as Ohm’s law and the examples within which they are presented and to apply the formulae to new problems). This will constructing the problems and pre-testing their difficulty level; agreeing with the PI on appropriate “study-only” control conditions to contrast with retrieval-practice, finding volunteers to take part in the experiment; testing both short-term (immediate) and longer-term (1 week later) learning, marking the results and analyzing the data with a view to a potential publication.

Skills, knowledge and experience required

A background in Experimental Psychology is essential. Full training will be given on the specifics of human experimental design.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The student will be trained to program the computers to implement the experimental design, create and present the experimental material, and take appropriate measurements of short- and longer-term learning. Training will also be provided in statistical data analysis. The bursary will provide excellent training in a science environment with pointed training in experimental technique and analysis and a clear application to educational practice (including the student’s own). The placement is likely to lead to an authorship on a publication.

Place of Work

Department of Psychology

Hours of Work


Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 30 June 2014 - Monday 11 August 2014

How to Apply

By CV submitted to the PI

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