One aspect that often causes difficulties for those working in the field of learning is that the most effective techniques and methods are often not easy to learn and often require supervision for a long time by a professional in the sector. There is therefore a need for a lot of practice on the part of the student for the most functional ways to study to be made their own.

Although cognitive and educational psychologists have identified several promising techniques to improve academic and academic performance, the evidence regarding their applicability and effectiveness is still limited[2].

However, there is a technique that appears to be a very powerful long-term learning tool: it is the repeated retrieval of the information learned[4]; however, students' ability to use it independently, without external supervision, has rarely been tested. On the contrary, the little existing research seems to indicate that students prefer to spend their time applying other strategies, such as review sessions, rather than mentally recalling what has been learned[3].

Starting from previous studies, consistent learning would be observed with at least three recoveries from the memory of the information studied[3]. As said, however, it is not clear whether students are able to use such a strategy independently and to what extent they are able to generalize its use. In this regard Ariel and colleagues have developed a study consisting of two experiments to answer essentially the two questions just mentioned[1].

The first experiment targeted the verify that, with a few simple instructions, a group of university students would have been able to improve their learning by applying the technique of repeated mnemonic recovery.

With a second experiment instead the same researchers wanted test whether later on the same students would continue to use the same technique spontaneously, that is, without further instructions or external solicitations.

Let's take an example of repeated mnemonic recovery: suppose we have to memorize a shopping list; normally people re-read the information until they are able to repeat it correctly. This technique instead requires that, once stored, people repeat the same information at least 3 times. This should stabilize them in memory more than what would happen by simply going over them again by rereading the list.

Let's go now to see the individual experiments and what results they showed.

Experiment 1

30 university students were assigned 20 Lithuanian terms to learn. The students were divided into two groups:

  • Half of the people were simply told of study the translation of Lithuanian words, without any particular instruction, in order to learn as many as possible.
  • The other half of participants were given it same task but with the addition of an instruction: they were told that to repeatedly test themselves for checking what was actually memorized was an effective strategy to improve learning (they were also shown charts to support this thesis). In practice, once a new term was learned, they were advised to make at least three attempts to recall it before considering it learned.

Both groups were tested after 45 minutes to see how many terms they had learned.

What emerged from it?

  • First, the simple instruction given (recalling the terms at least 3 times) was sufficient to significantly increase the probability that the strategy would be used. In other words, the people to whom the strategy was suggested made several attempts to recall the terms to be studied.
  • Also, as expected, people who used the strategy remembered many more Lithuanian words compared to the group that hadn't received suggestions on how to study.
  • Finally, in both groups the number of words learned correlated a lot with the number of re-enactments during the study phase.

In summary, the study strategy proved to be truly effective and the students were able to use it with very few instructions.

Experiment 2

The second experiment attempted to answer two questions: would the use of the strategy of repeated re-enactment lead to its long-lasting use? Would the students generalize its use to other materials to learn?

To answer these questions, the researchers conducted a second experiment on same people. The procedure was very similar to that of the first experiment but with some differences and it was done in two sessions: in the first session they had to learn new Lithuanian words and in the second session they had to learn Swahili terms instead. A very important thing is that in this case neither group was given any suggestions on how to study.

What emerged from it?

  • To begin, the people who in the first experiment had received the suggestion to use the repeated re-enactment strategy continued to use this approach spontaneously also in the second experiment in which they had received no directions.
  • Also in this case, those who used the aforementioned learning strategy learned more terms.
  • Furthermore, the strategy continued to be used spontaneously even when the information to be learned was changed (from Lithuanian to Swahili).
  • Finally, even in this case, the number of words learned correlated with the number of re-enactments in the study phase.


Overall, the research seems to show that explicitly recalling the information studied three or more times improves the learning ability. Also, at least for young university-level adults, this technique would seem easily implemented with a few simple instructions, without the need for special training. To learn it, therefore, it would be enough to suggest it to those who must use it.

Two words to explain the difference between the vaccine (which generally requires only one administration or periodic administrations, such as every XNUMX years (as with the hepatitis B vaccine) and the antiviral drug (such as the cocktail for HIV-positive patients, who ingest molecules through daily pills that attack parts of the virus, to directly destroy it). The vaccine consists of the administration of molecules that mimick parts of the virus without being infectious, so that our immune system can develop a memory to recognize those parts (that particular type of antigen) when the virus comes back on the doorstep...this memory in some cases lasts all the life, in other cases (like hepatitis B) a decade or so. Once this immune memory has been developed in our body, the pathogen will have to deal with an extremely powerful arsenal of anti-viral mechanisms (orchestrated by our immune cells) that will kill it in no time (in fact, after we get vaccinated, if we get the flu, we get rid of it without even realizing it...our (memory) immune cells know what to do at that point). Another way to develop this memory is by letting ourselves to be infected — as we've done with lots of infections, with low mortality and low morbidity. The antiviral drug is a molecule that acts against the pathogen too, but it does so on its own — the basic problem of an antiviral is that it doesn't last forever, because everything we eat (the pills) is excreted from our body, in a few hours or few days — but there are also molecules that can float, once you put them into the circle, for quite a few days ...(or techniques that modern pharmacology has been studying for a decade or so, aimed to transform molecules with the objective of extending their permanence in the tissues after being administered, see above: nanotechnology therapy). Bibliography

  1. Ariel, R., & Karpicke, JD (2018). Improving self-regulated learning with a retrieval practice intervention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 24(1), 43.
  2. Dunlosky, J., Rawson, KA, Marsh, EJ, Nathan, MJ, & Willingham, DT (2013). Improving students' learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.
  3. Karpicke, JD (2009). Metacognitive control and strategy selection: deciding to practice retrieval during learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 138(4), 469.
  4. Karpicke, JD, Blunt, JR, Smith, MA, & Karpicke, SS (2014). Retrieval-based learning: The need for guided retrieval in elementary school children. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 3(3), 198-206.

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