Retrieval practice protects against stress

Stress, especially high stress testing like the LSAT, law school exams, and the bar exam, impairs our memory and decreases our performance. Some law students with text anxiety “blank out” during exams due to acute stress and cannot remember anything they learned. What if you could make your memory and all of the material that you learned immune to stress?

Learning by using retrieval practice and self-testing makes your memory more “stress resistant” than if you learn by rereading or memorization. Retrieval practice – recalling information from memory without any cues and taking practice tests – is a learning super tool, much more effective than restudying or rereading. Researchers have already proven that retrieval practice is better for learning than rereading because it builds knowledge and calibrates learning by helping learners understand what they do and do not know.

Now, researchers have now proven that retrieval practice also protects what we have learned against acute stress.

“[U]sing a highly effective learning strategy to strengthen memory at encoding inoculated memory against the deleterious effects of the delayed stress response.”

In the study, students were separated into two groups. In the first group, students learned material by taking practice tests (retrieval practice). In the second group, students learned material by restudying or rereading it. One day later, the researchers induced stress on the participants, finding that students who learned by restudying were impaired by the stress condition, but that students who learned by taking practice tests (retrieval group) were not impaired by the effects of stress. Results suggest that retrieval practice produces stronger learning that is also more immune to damaging effects of stress than rereading or restudying.

What does this mean for law students? Incorporate more practice questions and self-quizzing into your weekly “study” plan, especially as you complete each topic. When preparing for exams, more practice tests under exam conditions using retrieval practice will help you protect your memory and avoid test anxiety.