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 focusing only on recently presented material, and should assess students' ability to use key concepts rather than memorize random facts or definitions.

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 and connected to concepts and skills from earlier in the course.

Ideas for incorporation:

  • Remember that assessment is formative as well as summative when designing courses, assignments, and exams.
  • 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.