Karpicke and Roediger question the common assumption that learning increases as people study and encode material, while measuring that learning by testing does not by itself produce learning. They examined undergraduates tasked with learning the meanings of 40 words in Swahili. Repeated testing of already learned words enhanced long-term recall when assessed 1 week later, whereas repeated studying had no beneficial effects. Testing required the students to retrieve the English-Swahili word associations, which suggests that encoding, although critical for the formation of a memory, may not be sufficient for its retention or consolidation. Their abstract:
Learning is often considered complete when a student can produce the correct answer to a question. In our research, students in one condition learned foreign language vocabulary words in the standard paradigm of repeated study-test trials. In three other conditions, once a student had correctly produced the vocabulary item, it was repeatedly studied but dropped from further testing, repeatedly tested but dropped from further study, or dropped from both study and test. Repeated studying after learning had no effect on delayed recall, but repeated testing produced a large positive effect. In addition, students' predictions of their performance were uncorrelated with actual performance. The results demonstrate the critical role of retrieval practice in consolidating learning and show that even university students seem unaware of this fact.