Supervised by: Alix Hibble BSc. (Oxon), MSc (Oxon), DPhil (Oxon.). Alix studied Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, where she was awarded First Class Honours. She stayed at Oxford, where she completed an MSc in Psychological Research. Alix has recently completed a DPhil in Experimental Psychology at Oxford, and studied ‘Midbrain Contributions to Motion Perception’, a project which combines Alix’s love of neuroanatomy with psychophysics.


Research demonstrates that retrieval learning more actively engages the brain systems to favour better memory and knowledge retention. Our paper aims to show how independent differences affect the efficacy of retrieval learning practice in children and adults. How do general individual differences (gender, IQ), psychological individual differences (test anxiety, motivation) and physiological individual differences (brain injury and degenerative diseases) affect outcomes of retrieval practice? We discuss the impact of individual differences for retrieval practice-based strategies that should be implemented at the individual and classroom levels.


Retrieval practice is a method of studying that allows an individual to better retain information that has already been learned. This can be accomplished through various techniques based on testing learned knowledge, such as self-testing, low stakes quizzing in the classroom, flashcards, the use of practice questions, etc. This method is defined as the cognitive strategy of retrieving encoded information from memory. It is well-known as an efficient way of learning different types of materials in comparison to methods such as re-reading notes or simply highlighting, which produce inferior results. Moreover, retrieval practice has been proven to improve long-term retention, which is a considerable advantage of this technique (Roediger & Butler, 2010). On the contrary, some other learning techniques may enable short-term memory, but, as time goes on, they often do not enable retention of information learned in the long-term. Thus, retrieval practice is a useful method for gaining cognitive performance and memory capacity over time. 

We can understand why retrieval practice is such a powerful learning strategy by looking at neuroscience. Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system, including its structure, function, and development. One of the key components of the nervous system is the neuron, a specialised cell that is responsible for transmitting electrical and chemical signals throughout the body. Neurons communicate with each other through specialised junctions called synapses, which allow information to be transmitted from one neuron to another. Neurons are composed of three main parts: the cell body, which contains the nucleus and other organelles; dendrites, which are branched extensions that receive signals from other neurons; and the axon, which is a long, thin extension that carries signals away from the cell body to other neurons or to muscles. The communication between neurons occurs at the synaptic junction through the release of neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers stored in vesicles at the end of the axon. When an action potential reaches the end of the axon, it triggers the release of neurotransmitters into the synapse. The neurotransmitters then bind to receptors on the dendrites of the receiving neuron, causing an electrical signal to be generated in that neuron. The strength of the synapse, and therefore the relationship between neurons, is encoded by the number of receptors on the receiving neuron. 

Learning and memory acquisition and retention are complex processes that involve a network of interconnected brain regions and neural pathways. The process of learning begins when new information is encoded in the brain, which involves the formation of new connections between neurons. The information is then stored in the brain, either temporarily or long-term, in a process known as memory consolidation. The brain structures involved in learning and memory acquisition and retention include the hippocampus, which plays a crucial role in the formation of new memories, and the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in working memory and decision-making. The process of neuronal communication at synapses is critical for many functions in the nervous system, including sensory perception, motor control, and learning and memory. Critically, learning through retrieval practice produces stronger synaptic connections than passive learning methods, such as re-reading. This is due to ‘desirable difficulty’ – because retrieval practice is effortful, it makes the brain more active, and so the changes in synaptic weight occur more rapidly (Bjork, 1999). Some scientists also think that the ‘elaborated context’ search that occurs when students attempt to retrieve information may form more elaborate networks and so more ‘entry points’ into stored memories (Dempster, 1996), although this appears to be a short-term effect only (Karpicke & Smith, 2012). 

Whilst both laboratory and classroom evidence support the efficacy of retrieval practice, and  it is supported by a coherent explanation of its mechanisms through neuroscience, students are often reluctant to incorporate retrieval practice into their study routines. It seems that student metacognition is inaccurately assessing effective study techniques. In one survey of undergraduate students, only 38% reported using retrieval practice as a study strategy. Similarly, a study of high school students found that less than 5% of their study time was spent on retrieval practice. These statistics are concerning because retrieval practice has been shown to be a highly effective method of improving memory retention and recall. When asked, students seemed to misjudge the effectiveness of rereading (Karpicke and Blunt, 2011), raising the question of whether this impacts the later benefit of retrieval practice when said students attempt to study via testing. This could likely be due to the idea that testing brings upon negative feedback in the students’ eyes by pointing out areas that require improvement in the students’ knowledge, while rereading has a comforting effect by increasing the familiarity of the topic being studied. Secondly, students may not enjoy the increase in perceived effort from retrieval practice compared to more passive learning strategies. Through this way of thinking, students may have bias against retrieval practice, resulting in a less desirable outcome in which the impact of the testing is not optimum/ideal. Students should learn to look past this, and understand the importance of feedback and retrieval practice in their studies.

In this paper we explore the individual differences that affect the efficacy of retrieval practice, discussed with reference to students’ likelihood to use retrieval practice, and propose recommendations to increase the uptake of retrieval practice at the classroom and individual levels. 


General Individual Differences

IQ and Learning

All students vary on dimensions relating to gender, IQ levels, prior knowledge of topics, etc. These individual differences play vital roles with concerns regarding retrieval practice and learning in general. Education is built on and affected by students’ individual differences, and it is important that we consider each student’s unique traits to enable a fast-forward and effective learning strategy. In this section, we will discuss how retrieval practice is impacted by individual differences.

Numerous debates have centred around the notion of IQ (intelligence quotient). Having a high intelligence level is commonly associated with excellent learning. 

Several studies have investigated the relationship between retrieval practice and IQ. For example, a study by McDaniel et al. (2007) found that retrieval practice was positively associated with IQ scores, indicating that individuals with higher IQs may be more likely to engage in effective retrieval practice strategies. Similarly, a study by Ackerman et al. (2010) found that individuals with higher IQ scores tended to use more effective retrieval practice strategies. Another study by Jaeggi et al. (2011) investigated the relationship between working memory training (which involves retrieval practice) and IQ scores. The results showed that working memory training led to significant improvements in IQ scores, suggesting that retrieval practice may be a useful tool for enhancing cognitive ability. Overall, while the relationship between retrieval practice and IQ is still being explored, there is evidence to suggest that retrieval practice is an effective way of enhancing memory retention and may also have positive effects on cognitive ability. Jaeger et al. (2015) conducted research involving an experiment having third-grade children read a brief encyclopaedic text twice and then either performed a cued recall test on selected target contents of the text or reread the same text twice. A final four-choice memory test about the text’s contents was given to all children after one week, as well as tests measuring their IQ and reading skills. In the final four-choice memory test, children who took the initial cued recall test showed significantly greater performance (in learning) compared with children who restudied the text twice; their responses were 87% and 53% correct, respectively. Though it remains a nebulous subject that seems sensitive to address in research literature, IQ seems to have had the expected positive correlation with ease in gaining initial understanding of new content in these studies.


Gender, Learning and Memory

Gender and Education 

When considering gender differences in learning and retrieval practice, a barrier to research is the widespread gender differences in education.  

Gender socialisation affects learning opportunities. The vast majority of educators strive to provide their students with methods that foster the best learning environment possible. Yet studies conducted across the world show that women receive far less schooling than men. Teachers call on boys 30% more frequently than girls, ask boys more complex questions, provide boys with more in-depth comments, and offer boys more wait time than girls (AAUW, 1992). 

Learning environments are strongly influenced by a nation’s cultures, educational system, and a number of other aspects. These clear gender differences in how students are treated in class may yield different learning styles and results, and need to be taken into account before gender differences in retrieval practice can be investigated. This is an area that could benefit from further study, which was precluded within the constraints of this project.


Gender and Memory

A more fundamental investigation into gender differences and retrieval practice would analyse differences in long-term memory, which retrieval practice relies on. Long-term declarative memory addresses the storage of facts and events we have personally experienced. Declarative memory is part of long-term memory involving “know-how”. It is also known as explicit memory, as it consists of information that is explicitly stored and involves conscious effort to be retrieved. This means that one is consciously aware when one is storing and recalling information. A good long-term declarative memory is a must for good retrieval practices. 

Males tend to do better on activities requiring spatial memory in general. One example of a spatial working memory task is the ability to rotate objects spatially (Yuan et al., 2019). Females frequently choose an egocentric spatial strategy that involves using nearby landmarks as directional indicators. Males, on the other hand, frequently use the allocentric landmark data that is present throughout the memory task. It is, however, becoming more and more obvious that spatial memory is not a single, unitary function, and further research has shown that women perform better than men in tasks requiring object location memory. Females tend to be more adept than males at recognising target object exchanges as opposed to displacements of objects to new spatial positions that were previously vacant through target image method, which entails using a mental spatial map and orienting oneself in terms of absolute direction. While prominent, the male advantage in spatial-based memory tests can be reduced or even reversed.

A significant array of research, some of which is cited in this paper, concludes that long-term declarative memory will certainly affect the ability of one’s cognitive and retrieval thinking skills, hence the importance of addressing gender in the learning process as a wider topic. This research suggests that there should be a larger benefit for female students in using retrieval practice.


Individual Preferences

Although retrieval practice is generally a more effective learning strategy than restudy, students often prefer the latter. A recent research by the China Scholarship Council suggested that the higher perceived mental effort associated with task-based study practices was directly related to reduced retrieval practice usage by students. Why do students frequently undervalue retrieval practice? Prior studies have suggested that students base their metacognitive monitoring judgments, such as task-based perceived learning (de Bruin & van Gog, 2012; Koriat, 1997; van de Pol et al., 2020), on a variety of available cues, including task-based perceived mental effort (Koriat et al., 2014; van de Pol et al., 2020), specifically how pupils think about how much mental work it takes to learn a specific activity. A mediation model would anticipate that higher task-based perceived mental effort would lead to decreased task-based perceived learning, which would discourage choosing retrieval practice. Thus task-based perceived learning may indirectly influence learning strategy decisions through task-based perceived mental effort.

In this review section, the aim is to understand the impact of test anxiety and student motivation on learning abilities, especially regarding retrieval practice benefits. Reciprocally, it will also focus on the influence of this learning method on the level of anxiety and motivation.


Anxiety and Retrieval Practice

Nowadays, most students are highly anxious about their grades and perpetually tend to extend their academic goals higher. According to a survey of U.S. teens aged from 13 to 17, 70% of teenagers believe that anxiety is a major problem among people of their age in the community where they live (2018). Anxiety can be defined as a generalised feeling of worry or fear regarding a future event of an individual’s life (National Health Service, UK). For students, this chronic stress can come from their environment and the overall pressure of school. Additionally, parents play a significant role in provoking the anxiety of their children. Indeed,  parents who are constantly monitoring their child’s grades and putting immense pressure on them inevitably lead to a high level of anxiety for these students (Horowitz & Graf, 2019). Furthermore, another influential factor in students’ anxiety is the academic workload associated with the lack of social activities. Indeed, the reduced amount of social engagement can result in a total absence of balance between academic and social life, which can contribute to the formation of anxiety. 

In literature, higher levels of anxiety were found to correlate in lower scores on a test when using retrieval practice. An experiment was conducted on 63 Northwestern undergraduates (Hinze & Rapp, 2014) to determine whether test anxiety may attenuate retrieval practice benefits. This experiment used methods of manipulations of performance-related anxiety that consisted in inducing worry about one’s performance relative to peers. Also, the study used texts on biology topics and final tests assessing varied levels of comprehension, so that it could ensure that the results would be representative of educationally relevant learning demands. With identical retrieval instructions, participants engaged in either low-stakes or high-stakes quizzing, or reread the presented material. After a 7-day delay, performance on final transfer tests provided a measure of the long-term effects of pressure on retrieval practice benefits. As a result, the high-stakes quiz group performed worse than the low-stakes quiz group on detail items, inference items, and application items. Additionally, the high-stakes quiz group scored numerically lower than rereading on all item types. In conclusion, performance pressure during quizzes had a global negative impact on long-term retention. Indeed, it can be inferred that pressure dramatically reduced the traditionally observed benefits of retrieval practice for performance on inference and application questions and actually led to even worse performance than that of participants who just used the rereading technique, which means the testing effect completely disappeared. Through this first experiment, it can be concluded that retrieval practice accompanied with high pressure is less efficient than retrieval practice with low pressure. 

In the same study, another experiment has been conducted to confirm the findings, while eliminating multiple alternative explanations for the effects (Hinze & Rapp, 2014). The method used was adapted to face the concerns of the first experiment, such as the fact that the amount or quality of retrieval practice may have been constrained given that participants were cued to recall the content of individual paragraphs on the quizzes. To address this problem,  the format of the quizzes was changed from a cued recall task to a free recall task. This modification afforded participants more freedom to choose their own retrieval strategies. As expected, the findings on this second experiment were the same. The results revealed a strong effect of performance pressure on final test performance; participants performed more poorly on the final test after high-stakes as compared with low-stakes quizzes. In conclusion, these results are consistent with the idea that learning through retrieval practice depends on the student’s level of anxiety, as the testing effect might be considerably reduced by a high degree of anxiety. 

At a certain level, we would expect that a high level of anxiety may become a considerable barrier to attaining success in studies. Thus, we could consider this factor a growing concern for the academic future of students. In fact, researchers also found that anxiety could promote a crippling focus upon negative aspects of a situation, which can make concentration difficult for anxious students. As a result, their performance during tests or while retrieving a lesson would be considerably weakened (Teigen, 1994).

Moreover, anxiety can also cause many symptoms which have a significant impact on an individual’s ability to learn and memorise. As an example, insomnia is one of the main consequences of anxiety. It is defined as a sleep disorder that makes it hard to fall asleep. This is quite common for students, who constantly feel worried and overthink about the next day. It is well-known that sleeping is essential to the memory process as, it allows the brain to store and organise all the information of the day. Each night, during sleep, the connections between neurons (called synapses) shrink to reduce or eliminate the memories you don’t need. This process is called consolidation. This selection of synapses during the night prepares you to form new memories the next day. Consequently, lack of sleep could be the reason retrieval practice is not totally efficient when used by highly anxious students. In the same perspective, insomnia caused by anxiousness may be the origin of daytime tiredness, thus decreasing the overall performance of an anxious student in their exam or tests, subsequently dramatically reducing the positive effect of the retrieval practice method. 

Although further research is needed to establish a clear relationship between the level of anxiety and the effectiveness of retrieval practice, some researchers have already shown a correlation between two factors. Indeed, an experiment made by Eysenck, a British psychologist, has demonstrated that anxiety can cause restriction in memory capacity (Eysenck, 1982). Before this study, two critical task dimensions have been shown to influence the association between anxiety and cognitive performance. The first dimension is task difficulty, as anxiety is reliably associated with poor performance on relatively hard cognitive tasks. The other dimension to consider is the degree to which a cognitive task can be executed automatically, as opposed to requiring the use of strategic information processing. Indeed, significant evidence shows that anxiety leads to a deficit in the strategic processing of information, rather than in the automatic one. Unlike strategic reasoning, automatic processing does not require access to memory capacity, which explains why it is not impaired by anxiety. In the experiment, Eynseck adopted an approach in order to evaluate the hypothesis that anxiety can cause restrictions of available working memory capacity. The study measured decision latencies on a grammatical reasoning task performed with either a low or a high simultaneous memory load. The results of this study confirm that elevated anxiety is associated with performance deficits on relatively complex cognitive tasks. Although all 600 participants (who were first year psychology students) managed to maintain equivalent high levels of accuracy on the reasoning task proposed, the decision latencies shown by high anxiety students were remarkably higher than those shown by low anxiety ones. Thus, elevated anxiety was associated with the slowing of decision making on the central reasoning task. 

While the findings of these studies provide clear support for the conjecture that high anxiety is related with reduced working memory capacity, they don’t serve to clarify the precise cognitive mechanisms behind this restriction. Nevertheless, one can still theorise about the reason why anxiety restricts working memory capacity, especially in retrieval practice. Indeed, several researchers have suggested that anxious students may selectively engage in excessive useless task processing that consumes working memory capacity which in less anxious individuals remains available for task performance. To conclude, anxiety seems to negatively impact the benefits of retrieval practice as it may lead to a significant reduction in an individual’s working memory capacity, consequently weakening the student’s performance. 

Using retrieval practice might reciprocally have a large impact on reducing a student’s degree of anxiety. Considering that retrieval practice has been proven to be the most efficient learning method to prepare for a test (Bae et al., 2019) and that grades are one of the primary preoccupations of students, preparing through retrieval would allow them to gain performance and become more confident about their academic level. In contrast, using methods such as re-reading, which are comparatively less efficient than retrieval practice, could result in lower grades that will increase a student’s anxiety about his future.  Experiments have been conducted in schools to determine whether the retrieval practice method can lessen the level of anxiety of students or not. One of these experiments was conducted on 1408 middle school students, who participated in classroom-based retrieval practice (Agarwal et al. 2014) and almost always involved immediate feedback. This way of learning was implemented into their learning habits. After that, students were asked whether retrieval practice made them feel more calm and less stressful for their exam. As a result, 72% of students reported that retrieval practice made them less nervous for tests and exams, 22% said they experienced about the same level of nervousness, and only 6% of students said this method made them more nervous. According to these results, we could assert that training through retrieval made students feel less anxious and more comfortable regarding upcoming tests. Thus, the retrieval method seems much more effective and less anxiety-provoking than other methods. In fact, when students appropriate it and implements it into their habits, they find themselves all the more confident and less stressed. 

It has been shown that anxiety can influence the benefits of retrieval practice, as it may reduce an individual’s working memory capacity. Inversely, it has also been suggested that using retrieval practice might reduce a student’s level of anxiety. However, further research is needed to determine the mechanisms underlying these findings. Anxiety is a very common phenomenon in modern societies, and its reduction, especially for children and teenagers, should be a matter of public policy since, besides its effect on memory, a high level of anxiety can cause many other negative health impacts which can even be irreversible for a young individual. Therefore, it should be a priority to enable students to learn in an anxiety-free environment that is conducive to their personal and academic growth. To reach this objective, educators should arguably, according to the scientific findings discussed above, adopt retrieval based learning methods, besides putting less pressure on students so that they can feel comfortable during the learning process. Additionally, parents should accompany their children from a healthier perspective, without always demanding them to be top of their class. The role of parents should be to facilitate the learning of their children, rather than pressuring them in a way that might provoke anxiety and thus negatively impact their learning and memory capabilities. In conclusion, it is obvious that, with less pressure and anxiety, students would be better enabled to flourish and develop their intellectual capacities.


Motivation and Feedback

Motivation refers to the impetus that gives reason to human behaviour, operating at either a conscious or unconscious level. It is a condition that pushes individuals to desire a change in either themselves or the environment. Motivation is presented in different forms, such as intrinsic or extrinsic motivation: intrinsic motivation involves internal rewards, whereas extrinsic motivation uses external factors.  It is expected that motivation would increase the effectiveness of studying, working or achieving a goal, but does a strong motivation help diminish the gap between the efficiency of retrieval practice and restudy? A possible answer would be that, due to motivation increasing the student’s attention to the material being studied, it would be reasonable to expect it to maintain the student’s aim towards learning (Kang and Pashler, 2014). 

Kang and Pashler (2014) concluded there was a lack of correlation between extrinsic motivation and attention retention, as no significant difference between performance with and without a form of extrinsic motivation (monetary bonuses) was present in the results of their experiments. However, despite the fact that “motivation does not modulate the benefit of retrieval practice”, it does affect retrieval practice positively, as shown in the improved performance of participants with a motive (time saved) studying using retrieval practice.

Through this, it is evident that having a learner motivation does encourage individuals to aim higher and eventually perform better when used with retrieval practice. Furthermore, the motive should be significant enough to push the person to complete the task. Kang and Pashler’s third experiment produced a significant difference in results once the motive was manipulated. Additionally, there is a stronger disparity in results when an even more motivating factor was used to drive the participants further, by either continuing to experiment using time savings or using higher monetary bonuses. By completing more experiments like this, additional results may be significant enough to draw a more solid conclusion for the relationship between motivation and retrieval practice. This link should continue to be studied in order to produce relevant results to students and teachers, who may be able to take advantage of the benefits of high motivation. This further research could explore the differences between motivation for, for example, different genders, ages, races, etc.

Clearly, motivation does encourage students to do better  on some level, contradicting Kang and Pashler’s findings. In spite of the lack of direct improvement in performance with motivation, it creates a more enjoyable experience for students, which encourages them to continue studying and is a factor that teachers often use in the classroom to maintain student focus. Many aspects of the environment can be used to increase students’ motivation, such as constructive feedback and reward systems. Of the two, effective feedback is very highly impactful on motivation. Research by Abel and Bäuml (2020) showed that studying through retrieval practice with corrective feedback causes students to remain invested in the topic being studied – in other words, motivated. Feedback is information usually given by a person of higher power, authority, or knowledge, about an individual’s performance, and can either be positive or negative. Abel and Bäuml’s (2020) research demonstrated that retrieval practice does not impact motivation, but rather the presence or absence of corrective feedback does. However, it would still be useful to conduct further tests, if this research were to be continued, in order to further analyse the extent to which corrective feedback will influence motivation. The type of feedback is also relevant: Hattie and Timperley (2007) proved that general feedback (e.g. praise) is ineffective in improving performance. Corrective feedback was clearly the most effective in enhancing the retention of information and therefore supports the idea of using both retrieval practice and corrective feedback. 

Research has often proven that retrieval practice not only improves motivation but also performance (e.g. Carpenter, 2009). Therefore, using both retrieval practice and constructive feedback would both enhance student performance and motivation, ensuring there is no loss of interest or engagement with the material being studied. In an age of multi-tasking and shrinking attention spans due to the rise and progress of information technology, this maintenance in motivation is necessary for students to remain focused on their studies. 


Acquired & Degenerative Individual Differences

Acquired differences refer to variations in traits that occur in an individual’s lifetime as a result of environmental or experiential factors, rather than genetic variations. Acquired differences play a role in the development and progression of neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer’s and brain injuries. 


Retrieval Practice and Multiple Sclerosis

The retrieval practice method has been found to be highly effective when used by healthy students. In this section, we discuss if the testing effect (representing the benefits of retrieval practice) that was found in many previous studies is still available for students with multiple sclerosis (MS). 

A study investigated whether retrieval practice during testing leads to better delayed recall than restudy among persons with MS (Sumowski, et al., 2010). The experiment was conducted on 32 participants, who were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and also 16 healthy control participants to compare the results. The experiment first revealed that retrieval practice allowed the participants with MS to perform better on activities using memory. Indeed, according to the author, the study is “the first known evidence for the mnemonic value of retrieval practice” relative to restudy among persons with neurologically based memory impairment. Moreover, it appears that retrieval practice is equally effective for both healthy and MS diagnosed individuals, as no significant difference was found between the testing effect for healthy controls and for MS. These results are compatible with the assumption that retrieval practice is equally beneficial for students. Thus, schools should implement retrieval practice for every student in order to improve their ability to learn, memorise, and to generally perform academically.

Many other learning disabilities exist, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dyscalculia. As retrieval practice is efficient in healthy students, we could hypothesise that this method would still be more effective than restudying even in students with learning disabilities. However, this assumption needs to be verified so that every student may know the best way to learn and memorise the information provided in their courses, promoting long-term retention. This is an issue that should be researched by neuroscientists and psychologists, as this topic is quite important for the well-being of students with learning disabilities, who may be experiencing academic difficulties which could lead to other serious consequences, such as depression or anxiety.


Retrieval Practice and Brain Injury

A brain injury is a type of physical trauma that affects the brain’s normal functioning. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including a blow to the head, stroke, infection, or lack of oxygen to the brain. Brain injury can have a significant impact on a person’s life, as it can affect their physical, cognitive, emotional, and social functioning. Depending on the severity of the injury, the effects can range from mild, temporary symptoms to permanent disability or death. According to the World Health Organization, traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major cause of death and disability worldwide:  it is estimated that there are around 69 million new cases of TBI globally each year.

The symptoms of a brain injury can vary depending on the location and severity of the injury. Common physical symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, seizures, and difficulty with balance and coordination. Cognitive symptoms can include memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and problems with language and communication. Emotional symptoms can include mood swings, depression, anxiety, and irritability. In addition, a brain injury can affect a person’s social functioning, leading to difficulty with relationships and work. The effects of a brain injury can be profound and long-lasting, requiring ongoing medical care, rehabilitation, and support from family and friends. The impact of a brain injury can be especially challenging for children and young adults, as they may face ongoing challenges with learning and development. However, with the right treatment and support, many people with brain injury are able to recover and lead fulfilling lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sports-related injuries are a leading cause of traumatic brain injuries among young adults aged 15-24. In fact, approximately 300,000 sports-related TBIs occur in this age group every year. Additionally, teenagers are known for their accident-proneness and clumsiness, which can also increase their risk of sustaining a TBI, with the CDC reporting that falls are the leading cause of TBIs in this age group, accounting for nearly half of all TBI-related emergency department visits. This is especially concerning during the school years, as this is the time when students are expected to engage in a wide range of physical activities, such as sports and physical education classes. As such, schools should prioritise safety measures to help prevent sports-related injuries and other accidents that could lead to TBIs in teenagers and young adults.

In the context of brain injury, retrieval practice may be especially beneficial for people who have experienced damage to the brain’s memory systems. For example, individuals who have suffered a traumatic brain injury or stroke may have difficulty with memory recall due to damage to the hippocampus or other areas of the brain. Retrieval practice can help these individuals strengthen their remaining memory pathways and improve their ability to recall information. Research has shown that retrieval practice can also promote neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to adapt and reorganise after injury. By repeatedly retrieving information from memory, individuals with brain injury may be able to strengthen existing neural connections or create new ones, leading to improved cognitive function and overall recovery.

A study conducted by Erin D. Bigler (2013) aimed to investigate the effectiveness of retrieval practice as a memory strategy for children and adolescents with TBI. The researchers recruited 24 participants with TBI aged between 8-18 years and 24 age-matched control participants without TBI. The study was conducted in three phases: the learning phase, retrieval practice phase, and the delayed recall phase. During the learning phase, both the TBI and control groups were presented with 20 words to learn. In the retrieval practice phase, the participants were randomly assigned to either the retrieval practice condition or the restudy condition. In the retrieval practice condition, the participants were asked to recall as many words as they could from the previous learning phase; in the restudy condition, the participants were presented with the same 20 words again. The delayed recall phase was conducted 24 hours later, when the participants were asked to recall as many words as they could. The results of the study showed that retrieval practice significantly improved memory performance in both the TBI and control groups. However, the TBI group showed a greater improvement in memory performance compared to the control group when using the retrieval practice strategy. Additionally, the TBI group also showed a greater improvement in memory performance when compared to their own performance in the restudy condition.

Similarly, another research paper by E. Bayen et al. investigated the effectiveness of retrieval practice in improving memory for individuals with TBI. The researchers recruited 15 participants who had experienced severe TBI and had memory impairment. The study was conducted in two phases: the learning phase and the retrieval practice phase. During the learning phase, the participants were presented with 32 face-name pairs to learn. In the retrieval practice phase, the participants were randomly assigned to either the retrieval practice condition or the control condition. In the retrieval practice condition, the participants were asked to recall as many face-name pairs as they could from the previous learning phase. In the control condition, the participants were asked to read a list of face-name pairs. The results of the study showed that retrieval practice significantly improved memory performance in the TBI group. The TBI group showed a greater improvement in memory performance compared to the control group when using the retrieval practice strategy. The TBI group also showed a greater improvement in memory performance when compared to their own performance in the control condition.

Finally, the hypothesis that retrieval practice can help individuals with brain injury was upheld by the results of the research paper “Retrieval Practice Improves Memory in Survivors of Severe Traumatic Brain Injury” (Sumowski et al., 2014). The study showed that retrieval practice was an effective memory strategy for individuals with severe TBI. Participants who used the retrieval practice strategy showed a significant improvement in memory performance compared to those who did not use retrieval practice.

 Brain injury can have a significant impact on a person’s memory function, making it challenging for them to recall important information in their daily lives. The results of these studies suggest that retrieval practice is an effective memory strategy for individuals with severe TBI. The findings indicate that retrieval practice can be used as a rehabilitation strategy to help individuals with TBI improve their memory function. By including retrieval practice as a memory strategy, rehabilitation specialists can help improve the memory performance of individuals with TBI, ultimately improving their daily life activities and overall cognitive function. Furthermore, the studies’ results emphasise the importance of individualised cognitive rehabilitation programs for individuals with TBI. The results showed that the TBI group benefited more from the retrieval practice strategy than the control group. This suggests that cognitive rehabilitation programmes should be tailored to an individual’s cognitive abilities and needs to maximise the effectiveness of the intervention. By including retrieval practice as a memory strategy, educators and rehabilitation specialists can help improve the memory performance of children and adolescents with TBI, ultimately improving their academic performance and overall cognitive development.


Retrieval Practice and Alzheimer’s 

Retrieval practice is a widely researched area in the field of education, with much of the literature focusing on students in high schools and universities. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that these students are often an opportunity sample for researchers, as they are regularly exposed to testing and learning in a structured environment. Moreover, there is a strong connection between job market prospects and education, making it a priority for governments to fund research in this area. However, there is growing evidence to suggest that retrieval practice can also have significant benefits for other age groups, including the elderly. Specifically, research has shown that retrieval practice can be beneficial for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, a neurodegenerative brain disease that results in neuronal death. Since retrieval practice relies on forming strong synaptic connections, we would expect a decrease in information retention in these patients.  

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that affects memory, thinking, and behaviour. As the disease progresses, individuals with Alzheimer’s may struggle to remember even the simplest things, such as the names of loved ones or how to perform everyday tasks. While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, research suggests that retrieval practice may offer some benefits for those living with it. According to the World Health Organization, there are currently around 50 million people worldwide living with dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common cause. By 2030, this number is projected to increase to 82 million, and by 2050, to 152 million. In many countries, particularly those in Western Europe and Japan, there is a rapidly ageing population, which means that the number of cases of Alzheimer’s disease is likely to increase disproportionately in these regions. This is due to the fact that age is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, with the likelihood of developing the disease increasing significantly after the age of 65. As such, the increasing proportion of elderly individuals in these populations is likely to drive up the number of cases of Alzheimer’s disease in the coming years.

Studies have shown that retrieval practice can benefit individuals with Alzheimer’s disease by improving their memory function. For example, a study conducted by Budson et al. (2015) found that retrieval practice improved memory retention in individuals with mild cognitive impairment, a condition that can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease. Another study conducted by Bunting et al. (2019) found that retrieval practice improved memory recall in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. The study involved individuals with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease who participated in a six-week retrieval practice intervention. The intervention involved retrieving information from a list of words or pictures, and the results showed that participants who engaged in retrieval practice had better memory recall than those who did not engage in retrieval practice.

Retrieval practice may also benefit individuals with Alzheimer’s disease by improving their ability to perform everyday tasks. For example, a study conducted by Insel et al. (2013) found that retrieval practice improved the ability of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease to perform tasks such as dressing, bathing, and using the telephone. The study involved a six-week retrieval practice intervention that focused on practising the steps involved in performing everyday tasks.

In conclusion, retrieval practice has shown promise as an intervention for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, improving memory retention, recall, and the ability to perform everyday tasks. While retrieval practice is not a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, it offers a potential avenue for improving cognitive function in those living with the disease. Further research is needed to determine the optimal duration and frequency of retrieval practice interventions for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and to better understand its potential benefits and limitations.



The efficacy of retrieval practice varies with individual differences. High levels of anxiety reduce the benefit of retrieval practice, and conversely, engaging in retrieval practice could reduce anxiety due to the improved retention of information critical for academic success. Motivation can increase the benefits of retrieval practice if sufficiently compelling, and feedback improves the retrieval benefits further still. In patients with acquired or degenerative brain disorders, retrieval practice offers a therapeutic benefit and may help reduce the load on caregivers.

The average student today struggles to remain invested in their studies, with constant distractions around them, such as social media and personal electronic devices. It is essential for teachers and students both to take advantage of motivation, corrective feedback, and retrieval practice in order to achieve a state of most effective study. These three factors clearly work best with one another, and can come in many forms. Examples include using online flashcards, such as Anki or Quizlet, or completing practice exams, driving on feedback from teachers afterwards. As to a motivating factor, reminders of an underlying ambition (such as passing a class or achieving an award) would be useful in emphasising the importance of studying or refining skills.



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