What is it about?

Taking a pretest before studying the material can improve recall of the material in a subsequent memory test. For example, students may be asked to answer questions such as "When did Woodrow Wilson's presidency begin?" before studying a text about former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Although students are unlikely to give the correct answer (i.e., "1913") on this pretest, they often show better retention on a subsequent test than if they do not take a pretest. The present study showed that this pretesting effect can be even more pronounced when the retention interval between studying and the final test of the information is extended. This pattern held true both when weakly associated word pairs such as "frog - pond" were used as study material and the retention interval lasted up to 30 minutes, and when a prose passage about Woodrow Wilson was used as study material and the retention interval lasted up to one week.

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Why is it important?

Our results show that the pretesting effect is not a fleeting effect, but may even be enhanced when the retention interval between study and final testing is extended. The pretesting effect thus fulfills a crucial requirement for its usefulness in the educational setting with its typically longer periods between acquisition and final testing of the material to be learned.


The view that creating errors in learning should be avoided at all costs is, in my experience, still widespread in educational practice. Hopefully, the current findings contribute to the idea that errors during acquisition can indeed be helpful in enhancing our long-term retention. However, further research is needed to determine more precisely the boundary conditions of the pretesting effect.

Oliver Kliegl

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This page is a summary of: The pretesting effect comes to full fruition after prolonged retention interval., Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, November 2022, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/mac0000085.
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