Vary your assessments and retrieval exercises.

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Altering retrieval exercises and test formats challenges students and increases their information retention by forcing them to recall it under differing contexts. Assessments should be cumulative in content, not only focusing on recently presented material, and should focus on key concepts rather than random facts, preventing students from 'selectively forgetting' certain concepts when studying. Glover (1989) found that students' long-term retention of information was better when they were given multiple exams rather than a single, large one and professors consistently reviewed all concepts presented.

Ideas for incorporation:

  • Schedule multiple, periodic assessments rather than giving a single, large exam.
  • Administer cumulative assessments in order to prevent selective forgetting.
  • Use varied test formats. Uniform test formats fail to challenge students and provides you and them with a false sense of knowledge.
  • Vary your retrieval exercises. As in the case of assessments, varying retrieval exercises challenges students to use information under varying contexts and thus reinforces knowledge and understanding.
  • Consider these suggestions for putting together assignments.


See the WWC Quick Review of a new study, “Daily Online Testing in Large Classes: Boosting College Performance While Reducing Achievement Gaps” (Pennebaker, J., Gosling, S. D., & Ferrell, J. D. (2013). PLoS One 8(11): e79774. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.007977).

Retrieval is an effective way to learn complex concepts. See this article on retrieval tests at William McEachern's THE TEACHING ECONOMIST.