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Neurocognitive mechanisms of the “testing effect”: A review


Memory retrieval is an active process that can alter the content and accessibility of stored memories. Of potential relevance for educational practice are findings that memory retrieval fosters better retention than mere studying. This so-called testing effect has been demonstrated for different materials and populations, but there is limited consensus on the neurocognitive mechanisms involved. In this review, we relate cognitive accounts of the testing effect to findings from recent brain-imaging studies to identify neurocognitive factors that could explain the testing effect. Results indicate that testing facilitates later performance through several processes, including effects on semantic memory representations, the selective strengthening of relevant associations and inhibition of irrelevant associations, as well as potentiation of subsequent learning.