Recall Type-Tasks Make A Difference

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Recall Tasks


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Do the types of recall activities a teacher chooses to use, impact on learning by retrieval practice?

In a new research paper, the type of a recall task may substantially influence the effects of learning by retrieval practice.

Put simply, teachers must be very selective when using retrieval practice strategies.

Type of retrieval strategy matters…

In It matters how to recall – task differences in retrieval practice (Endres et al, November 2020), this 30-pape paper explores how 54 university students studied two expository texts, followed by retrieval practice tasks.

The research found “short answer tasks led to increased retention of retrieved targeted information, whereas free recall tasks led to better retention.” Indirect effects, short answer tasks improved metacognitive calibration (or measurements) with “free recall tasks increasing self-efficacy.”

Retrieval practice is “easily exploitable in different educational contexts, such as school settings”. However, “there is little research on which type of retrieval” are best applied in schools.

Current literature suggests that “the use of different types of retrieval tasks makes little difference” (Rowland, 2014),  and this research paper seeks to discover if “the type of retrieval task matters, and demonstrates under which circumstance” which task type is best.

Elaborative Retrieval Theory

In 2009, Carpenter researched The Benefits of Elaborative Retrieval. In summary, the testing effect, rather than re-studying increases the retention:

  1. Recall of specific knowledge base memory traces back to that specific piece of knowledge
  2. Activating memory strengthens the connections between concepts
  3. These connections lead to better retrieval/memory trace
  4. The mental effort invested in recall spreads activation to other pieces of knowledge
  5. This connected knowledge and their associated targeted pieces of knowledge are thereby strengthened.

Despite retrieval practice research dating back to 1895, why do we still not yet know which type of tasks elicit better retention?

This excellent paper does provide a range of attempts to achieve a better understanding (page 3), but few studies have directly compared different types of recall tasks. It appears (at least) that we should test, not re-teach.

Indirect effects

The researchers discuss different learning outcomes, particularly retrieval practice and “how it can influence other factors relevant to future learning.” Especially self-regulation, behaviour and homework.

The majority of this paper goes through the methodology used in the research, something for teachers to consider if they want to understand how researchers construct research, and if one were to commence an EdD or PhD –  this is the territory where I am now exploring…

This research confirms the “assumption that task type matters when employing recall tasks for retrieval.” The paper also highlights the relevance of educational goals when implementing retrieval practice.

“When teachers decide on a task type of retrieval practice, they should also take the nature of the learning contents into account.” Prior knowledge and stage in the curriculum delivery matter…


My takeaway from this paper is that there is limited research on the ‘types of tasks used’ in relation to retrieval practice methods. Although the teaching profession will largely accept the retrieval practice is the number one strategy that all teachers should use, we don’t necessarily know yet, against which types of tasks work best.

This research confirms that “the effects of retrieval practice depend on the type of recall task: short answer tasks help us remember” targeted information and foster metacognition. Whereas “free-recall tasks helpers remember a broader spectrum” and foster motivation in students.

Teachers should choose recall tasks that correspond to lesson objectives and goals. This is a necessary requisite to learning outcomes  (direct effects) as well as metacognition and motivation (indirect effects).

Download the full paper.

Reference: Endres, T., Kranzdorf, L., Schneider, V. et al. It matters how to recall – task differences in retrieval practiceInstr Sci (2020).

3 thoughts on “Recall Type-Tasks Make A Difference

  1. What we also know is that retrieval practice can have a detrimental effect on memory. Teachers and leaders need to be aware of this even though Ofsted and influential others have ignored this aspect. See the short video by one of the prominent researchers of retrieval practice on this link for example:

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