Study Habit Tips

The Principle of Distributed Practice

(several short study periods rather than one long study period)

Is distributed practice more effective than massed practice? In distributed practice the student uses relatively short study periods broken up by rest intervals. In massed practice the student studies continually until the task is complete. The answer: Many experiments show that, in general, there is an advantage to distributed practice.. The length of the study period, of course, varies with different individuals, as well as with the nature of the material being studied.

Why it works.

There are three apparent reasons why distributed practice is more efficient than massed practice:

  1. Both physical and emotional fatigue are prevented.
  2. Motivation is higher when working within short blocks of time.
  3. The neural processes of learning, once energized, seems to continue working during the test period.

Immediate and long-term gains. Bertram Epstein experimented to find out whether or not distributed practice had an effect on retention. He tested his groups immediately after learning, then retested them at two weeks and at ten weeks after the original practice. He found distributed practice to be superior to massed practice for both immediate and long-term retentions.

Use of massed practice. In some cases, massed practice is superior to distributed practice. In work such as the writing of a paper, massed practice is often essential.

For example, the exact locations of the little stacks of notes spread over the desk are held in mind with precision; the discrete bits of information are precariously suspended in mind to be fitted in like a jigsaw puzzle piece at the appropriate time; and the organizational pattern, though dimly perceived, is beginning to take shape. To stop at this point would be disastrous. The entire effort would collapse. So, in creative work, or work which needs to be overviewed at one sitting, it is far more efficient to over-extend yourself and to compete that stage of the process, than to take a break or other wise apply the principle of distributed practice.