It's Time to Retrieve

We’re all pressed for time. Whether in class where we aim to cover everything we’ve planned, or outside of class when it comes to tackling a mountain of grading, there’s always more to be done than hours in the day. Now we're halfway through the semester and it’s going to be crunch time before we know it. How can we get our time’s worth with what we have remaining?

It's time to retrieve – effectively and efficiently.

With this update from, spend less than 5 minutes pondering research, resources, and tips from the science of learning. Retrieval practice is a quick strategy to boost learning and a quick strategy to incorporate into your teaching.

Time is of the Essence

When it comes to retrieval practice, a common misconception is that it takes more classroom time than typical teaching strategies. To the contrary, research demonstrates that retrieval practice dramatically increases learning in the same amount of time as in-class review of material. In other words, we get a bigger bang (learning) for our buck (time) when we use retrieval practice compared to reviewing already-presented material.

In three recent studies from authentic middle school, undergraduate, and medical school classrooms, the effectiveness of retrieval practice (via short quizzes) was compared to in-class content review. Across the board, retrieval practice significantly increased long-term learning, even after 6 months. Click below to read more about these three research studies and the efficiency of retrieval practice in classroom settings.


Challenging Learning is Robust Learning

Why does retrieval practice increase learning more than reviewing and restudying? Simply put, challenging learning is robust learning. When students retrieve, we challenge them to confront what they do and do not know. In contrast, reviewing material gives students the sense that they are retaining information, but they can’t be sure of what they know until it’s too late.

In Make it Stick, distinguished cognitive scientists delve into research about the benefits from retrieval practice compared to reviewing or restudying. From both an educator and a student standpoint, the authors reveal the theory behind why challenging learning yields robust learning. By incorporating stories and examples of effective cognitive strategies (like retrieval) and ineffective strategies (like reviewing), the research and theories behind the scenes of retrieval practice become applicable in everyday life.


Retrieval is Time Well Spent

Based on years of cognitive science research, we know that retrieval practice increases learning without requiring extra class time. In other words, class time can be re-allocated from less effective strategies, like reviewing, to more effective strategies, like retrieval. Retrieval practice is a powerful strategy in the classroom, but how can we spend our time wisely outside of the classroom and avoid additional prep time?

Start small. Incorporating retrieval practice in our teaching does not require an overhaul of courses.

For example, give students one minute at the beginning of class to write down one thing they learned from the previous class. This can be done without a pre-determined prompt, without grading, and without materials other than paper and pencil.

Student responses can be used to foster discussion for another 3-4 minutes, thereby requiring less than 5 minutes of class time and no grading. Keep in mind that when this activity is no-stakes or low-stakes (i.e., ungraded), emphasis is placed on learning and discussion, instead of assessment or test scores.

What is one retrieval strategy you can incorporate in your teaching tomorrow? Start small, let us know, and put your plan into action. It'll be time well spent.