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Spaced Practice

Q.1: "If I have 4 hours to study a subject, is it better to use all four hours at once, study in two 2-hour sessions, or study in four 1-hour sessions?"

Q.2: "Isn't it better to save studying to right before the test so the information is "fresh" in my mind?"

(*See answers below.)

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The benefits of Spaced Practice.


Source: The Learning Scientists

To remind you how to space your study, download:
Spaced Practice Poster         Spaced Practice Bookmarks
  Spaced Practice Poster              Spaced Practice Bookmarks
Source: The Learning Scientists

* Answers

1. According to research on the spacing effect, it is best to space out your study sessions for a given subject. How much spacing? There is no golden ratio, but a rule of thumb to follow is steadily extend the duration between study of topics. For instance, there may be a day between the first two times you study a subject. Stretch it to two days the next time. A bit longer the next, etc. "Won't that make it harder to remember the material?" Yes, but only in the short term. Making the effort to remember builds storage strength (how durable it is) for your learning and retrieval strength (ease with which you can recall and use it). A little bit of forgetting in the short term helps remembering for the long term.  

2What does "fresh" mean? Does it mean you really know the material, or is it just familiar to you? Cognitive scientists call this familiarity the "illusion of fluency." You think you know something because it looks familiar to you. But, when you are pressed to remember and apply it, you find you do not know it as well as you believed. Spacing your study, and using the many other methods described in this section, will free you of any "illusions" that prevent you from doing your best. 

Credits and Resources

The resources in this section were created by The Learning Scientists, cognitive scientists helping students and teachers apply scientifically sound learning strategies. Check out their blog for user-friendly advice.

Further Reading About Spaced Practice
Recommendations for optimizing spacing, excerpt from How We Learn by Benedict Carey
"The Combined Power of Sleep and Learning Strategies," Learning Scientists Blog
"Exercise’s Instant Brain Boost," Sweat Science

Study Smart, The American Psychological Association
"What Works and What Doesn't," Scientific American

College Resources and Workshops
Advising Department's "Student Success Series" Workshops
Tutoring