The Effects of Retrieval Practice and Prior Topic Knowledge on Test Performance and Confidence Judgments

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Contemporary Educational Psychology



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We investigated whether retrieval practice would interact with prior topic knowledge to influence chapter exam performances and confidence judgments of 41 undergraduates enrolled in an educational psychology class. As hypothesized, retrieval practice eliminated differences in exam performance as a function of prior topic knowledge. For practice-tested items, criterion test performances were comparable for high- and low-knowledge topics. By contrast, for non-tested items, students performed better on chapter content for which they possessed high prior topic knowledge. Importantly, this occurred when level of prior knowledge was operationalized based on the group means on topic pretests, and when labeling topics as high or low prior knowledge for each student based on their individual scores. Students possessed better monitoring accuracy when rating exam items that were practice-tested compared to items that were not; this difference was particularly pronounced for topics for which the group possessed high prior topic knowledge. Retrieval practice reduced overconfidence overall and especially in cases where students possessed high prior topic knowledge. Findings indicate that although retrieval practice benefits all students regardless of their prior topic knowledge, its benefits were greatest when studying unfamiliar content (i.e., low prior topic knowledge) and for increasing accuracy of confidence judgments when prior topic knowledge is high. Open-ended comments indicated that students perceived retrieval practice as helpful for retaining and retrieving information over time, for monitoring their comprehension, and for cueing important information for subsequent restudy.


Testing effect; Retrieval practice; Prior knowledge; Confidence judgments; Metacognitive monitoring


Educational Psychology



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