Dissertation Defense of Alison Robey
Dissertation Title: The Benefits of Testing: Individual Differences Based on Student Factors
Advisor: Dr. Michael Dougherty
Committee Members: Drs. Tracy Riggins, Bob Slevc, Scott Roberts
Dean's Representative: Dr. DJ Bolger
Abstract: The testing effect, the notion that retrieval practice compared to restudying information leads to greater and longer retention, is one of the most robust findings in cognitive science. However, not all learners experience a benefit from retrieval practice. Many manipulations that influence the benefits of the testing effect have been explored, however, there is still much to learn about potential individual differences in the benefits of retrieval practice over restudy. As the testing effect grows in popularity and increasing numbers of classrooms begin implementing retrieval practice, it is essential to understanding how students’ individual differences and cognitive abilities contribute to the effect. For my dissertation, I explore how students’ cognitive abilities, specifically, episodic memory, general fluid intelligence, and strategy use, relate to the benefit of retrieval practice. In Study 1, I developed a new measure to simultaneously capture two aspects of strategy use: variation in what strategies learners use and variation in how learners use strategies. In Study 2, I examine how these two types of strategy use, along with episodic memory and general fluid intelligence can be used to predict the magnitude of the testing effect. Converging evidence from multiple analyses suggests variation in how learners use strategies was the only individual difference to influence the benefit learners receive from retrieval practice. More specifically, learners who are less adaptive and flexible in their strategy use show a greater benefit than more skilled strategy users. These findings have implications for both improving existing theories of the mechanisms of the testing effect and for determining how to best incorporate retrieval practice into classroom settings.