Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences


Washington University


Department of Psychology

First Advisor

Henry L. Roediger, III, Ph.D.


retrieval practice, testing effect, higher order learning, fact learning, Bloom's taxonomy, feedback, K-12 education

Subject Categories

Cognitive Psychology | Educational Psychology


The development of higher order skills is a desired outcome of education. Some believe that higher order learning can be improved directly, whereas others argue that higher order learning can be improved via the enhancement of factual or conceptual knowledge. The relationship between fact and higher order learning is often speculated, but empirically unknown.

This project examines whether retrieval practice via quizzing, a strategy typically used to enhance fact learning, can be used as a strategy to improve higher order skills in both laboratory and applied settings. In the current study, higher order skills were considered to comprise the understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create categories of a revised Bloom’s taxonomy of knowledge and skills in education (Anderson et al., 2001). Across three experiments, subjects engaged in retrieval practice with basic concept questions, higher order questions, or a mix of question types. Performance was measured after a two-day delay on both concept and higher order questions in order to determine the type of retrieval practice that produced the greatest level of delayed performance.

Retrieval practice (regardless of question type) improved both delayed concept and higher order test performance more than restudying or no quizzing. In Experiments 1 and 2 with college students, delayed performance was greatest when the initial quiz question type matched the final test question type, consistent with a pattern of transfer-appropriate processing; however, benefits from conceptual retrieval practice on delayed higher order performance or from higher order retrieval practice on delayed concept performance were not found. In Experiment 3 with middle school students, a mix of concept and higher order quiz questions produced the greatest long-term learning, although this improvement was only marginally greater than the benefit from higher order retrieval practice on delayed higher order learning.

The current project is the first to demonstrate that retrieval practice with higher order questions improves delayed performance on higher order test questions from complex taxonomic categories. Retrieval practice can be used as a strategy to enhance both conceptual and higher order skill learning, and teachers are encouraged to apply retrieval practice strategies in their classrooms.



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