Education

3 benefits of spaced practice

23.10.2018 • 3 minutes

The benefits of spaced practice

When it comes to studying for a test, the vast majority of students rely on a method called massed practice, or “cramming”. The idea is simple: study intensively right before a test, to maximise the amount of information you remember at the time of the evaluation.

Is it effective? If the goal is to be able to pass the test at a specific moment, then cramming can certainly yield satisfactory results. However, if a student needs to be able to pass the test at any time over the course of days or weeks - in other words, understand and remember the course material in the long term - then massed practice is a terrible learning method.

It comes down to what students and their teachers value most: grades or a deep understanding of the course material. If you value the latter, there is an old and effective method that can help you reach your goals.

Benefits of spaced practice

Spaced or distributive practice means that a student will divide their studying into shorter learning sessions and spread them out over days, weeks, and even months. In the long run, this is far more effective than cramming, and here are three reasons why:

  1. Spaced practice relies on retrieval practice, a studying method that involves calling information to mind that has been previously stored in long-term memory. The more often we practice recalling memories from long-term memory, the more easily we are able to access them, and the more resistant they become to being forgotten.
  2. Unlike massed practice, which takes place in a short period and therefore always in the same environment, spacing out learning sessions means different retrievals occur in a different setting. This change in settings can also help with retrieval, by creating several different recall pathways to memories.
  3. The act of retrieving a memory modifies and reorganises it. Each retrieval merges new memories with older ones and reinforces them.

3 tips to implement spaced practice

For teachers who value long-term learning and understanding, helping students space out their learning sessions is paramount. Here are some tips to help students implement spaced practice.

  1. The time between studying sessions mostly depends on how long students should remember the material. Short gaps are useful when the information needs to be remembered for a short time, but if the retention of information needs to last months or years, the gaps should be lengthened accordingly. A word of caution, because excessively long gaps can lead students to forget essential information, and the exercise’s efficiency to suffer.
  2. Pay attention to the frequency of the gaps. We can’t prevent our memory from forgetting some information, but the more often we study something, the longer we remember it, and the more we will be able to use it. Spacing gaps should therefore be as frequent as possible, given the time available for studying.
  3. Developing the habit of spacing out learning sessions requires organisation and time management. Students need to know that it takes up no more of their time than cramming, but it guarantees far better results in the long run.

Content drawn from “_The Science of Learning — What Every Teacher Should Know_”, EdX: https://www.edx.org

Writer
Gauthier Lebbe, Content Editor @Wooclap
Gauthier Lebbe

Content Editor @Wooclap. I love to write, learn, write about learning, and learn about writing. And hit readers with puns they don't see coming. You know, sucker puns.

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