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Psychon Bull Rev. 2013 Dec;20(6):1239-45. doi: 10.3758/s13423-013-0434-z.

Repeated retrieval practice and item difficulty: does criterion learning eliminate item difficulty effects?

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Kent State University, Kent, OH, USA,


A wealth of previous research has established that retrieval practice promotes memory, particularly when retrieval is successful. Although successful retrieval promotes memory, it remains unclear whether successful retrieval promotes memory equally well for items of varying difficulty. Will easy items still outperform difficult items on a final test if all items have been correctly recalled equal numbers of times during practice? In two experiments, normatively difficult and easy Lithuanian-English word pairs were learned via test-restudy practice until each item had been correctly recalled a preassigned number of times (from 1 to 11 correct recalls). Despite equating the numbers of successful recalls during practice, performance on a delayed final cued-recall test was lower for difficult than for easy items. Experiment 2 was designed to diagnose whether the disadvantage for difficult items was due to deficits in cue memory, target memory, and/or associative memory. The results revealed a disadvantage for the difficult versus the easy items only on the associative recognition test, with no differences on cue recognition, and even an advantage on target recognition. Although successful retrieval enhanced memory for both difficult and easy items, equating retrieval success during practice did not eliminate normative item difficulty differences.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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