Work Type


Publication Date



Liberal Arts and Sciences


retrieval practice; Bloom’s taxonomy; higher order learning; transfer; testing effect


The development of students’ higher order learning is a critical component of education. For decades, educators and scientists have engaged in an ongoing debate about whether higher order learning can only be enhanced by building a base of factual knowledge (analogous to Bloom’s taxonomy) or whether higher order learning can be enhanced directly by engaging in complex questioning and materials. The relationship between fact learning and higher order learning is often speculated, but empirically unknown. In this study, middle school students and college students engaged in retrieval practice with fact questions, higher order questions, or a mix of question types to examine the optimal type of retrieval practice for enhancing higher order learning. In laboratory and K-12 settings, retrieval practice consistently increased delayed test performance, compared to rereading or no quizzes. Critically, higher order and mixed quizzes improved higher order test performance, but fact quizzes did not. Contrary to popular intuition about higher order learning and Bloom’s taxonomy, building a foundation of knowledge via fact-based retrieval practice may be less potent than engaging in higher order retrieval practice, a key finding for future research and classroom application.


This is the accepted version of an article appearing in Journal of Educational Psychology:

Agarwal, P. K. (2019). Retrieval practice & Bloom’s taxonomy: Do students need fact knowledge before higher order learning? Journal of Educational Psychology, 111(2), 189–209.



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