Given the choice between taking two study sessions to review test material and one study session to review the same material, I prefer fewer blocks of time. My natural tendency has always been to block certain tasks together so that I can focus on one thing at a time. I find that multitasking tends to hinder my productivity, so I just try to avoid it.
While this sounds like good a productivity strategy, it’s actually a rather poor study strategy.
In fact, if you want to give yourself an immediate 60% retention boost, take the following study tip to heart:
Spread Out Your Study Sessions
Another way to state this tip is, “Quit cramming.”Instead of grouping all your homework and review materials into a few long blocks of time, your retention will skyrocket by simply spreading those sessions out throughout your week. If you are going to spend 3 hours this week reviewing for a test, you would be far better off doing it on three nights, one hour per night, than one three-hour session.
The reason is what psychologists call the “distributed practice effect,” and it’s one of the most widely studied and affirmed principles of student success.
Nevertheless, the ubiquitous cram session continues to plague student success across the nation. Maybe it’s because most students would rather put things off until the last minute thinking they work better under pressure. Maybe students think they’re too busy. Most probably don’t recognize the immediate benefit of spreading out your sessions.
Consider the results from one study in particular. A group of researchers at the University of Colorado did an test to see the impact of having a good review schedule on student retention. It’s the equivalent of learning material in a study session once, then coming back to that material several days later in order to review it. In the experiment researchers examined numerous student review schedules and found that students who implemented the optimal review schedule realized an 89.7% retention increase over those not reviewing at all. The optimal review schedule also scored 16% higher than the poor review schedule, but that also means that even reviewing assignments poorly resulted in a 61% retention improvement over no review at all.
That means that just by reviewing material a week later, you can remember 60% more of it. Can you imagine the impact that could have on your free time if you just reviewed each class one week later? When tests came up, your cram time would go way down.
Making Common Sense Work
We recognize that this seems like a somewhat common sense study tip. Most students know they need to review. It shouldn’t be a new idea to them. But many students still find themselves cramming for tests rather spreading out their study sessions.
If you are one of those students who needs to implement a review schedule to spread out your studying, take this one tip: schedule it.
New things you don’t schedule rarely get done, and the data all points one direction. Spreading out study sessions increases long-term retention, and overall time required may actually decrease. Students who implement a review process thus study less and retain more to the tune of 61%.
So schedule a review, save time and retain more. Do you have any other tips for reviewing that might be helpful? We would love to read them in the comments below.