Practice tests help patients who experience stress, without impairing their memory, according to researchers at the Tufts University.

A group of volunteers were subjected to retrieval practice tests, and they experienced no signs of memory impairment as a result.

The study, published in the journal Science, on Nov. 25, shows that memory can actually be protected against the negative effects of stress. The research could help develop new strategies in order to treat people who have been subjected to stressful events.

Retrieval Practice — Efficient Formula

The participants were asked to learn 30 words and 30 images, displayed one at a time for a few seconds. The research wanted to give the subjects incentives to take notes, so after each display there were 10 seconds during which they were encouraged to use the newly found knowledge in a sentence.

The participants to this research were divided into two groups, each with its own study method: one would use retrieval practice, taking time to remember all the elements they were shown, and the other used study practice, as described above.

The study was conducted on 120 subjects; the group who employed the retrieval practice showed no impairment in memory after acute stress, while those from the study practice remembered fewer items overall, especially when exposed to stress.

Study Hard — Not The Answer

"Learning by taking tests and being forced to retrieve information over and over has a strong effect on long-term memory retention, and appears to continue to have great benefits in high-stakes, stressful situations," noted Amy Smith, corresponding author of the study.

After a one-day break, each of the two groups was divided in half; each half was placed into a stressful environment. Consequently, the participants were asked to give impromptu speeches and solve math problems in front of two judges, three peers and a video camera. The participants also took tests, in order to establish what they remembered from the images and words showed the day before.

The stressed subjects who learned through retrieval practice remembered approximately 11 of 30 items, while the non-stressed participants remembered 10 items. However, the ones who learned through study practice remembered 7 items when stressed and 9 items when not subjected to stress.

Thus, study practice was found to be less effective than retrieval practice, in both stressful and non-stressful conditions, which is highly important for teachers and educators when it comes to learning how to improve their students' performances.

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