Spaced and interleaved practice improves recall

Repeated practice opportunities that are spaced apart in time are more effective than the same number of practice opportunities that occur closer together in time (Carpenter, 2022).

Spaced practice refers to studying the same content in two or more sessions spaced over time (Stanton, 2021). Students should revisit material they have already learned throughout the semester (Dunlosky, 2013; Agarwal, 2019; Carpenter, 2022).

Mixed practice or interleaved practice refers to engagement with a mixture of topics rather than focusing on one topic before moving on to the next topic.

Retrieval practice is what students should do. Spaced and interleaved practice is how students should do it.

In this video, Peter Brown, author of Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning describes how learning works by spacing out and mixing up the retrieval practice.

Strategies for spacing and mixing practice

  • Employ frequent formative assessments. When student learning is assessed only two or three times throughout a term, students often resort to cramming, that just-in-time effort of stuffing information into their short-term memory. To disrupt this cycle, use frequent formative assessments that ask students to space out their retrieval of information over time.
    • Classroom assessment techniques (CATs) are a good way to introduce formative assessments (Angelo & Cross, 1993). Assigning regular homework is another approach instructors use to encourage their students to space out their practice (Ambrose, 2010; Agarwal, 2019).
  • Use cumulative assessments. (Larsen, 2009; Ambrose, 2010; Dunlosky, 2013; Khanna, 2013; Agarwal, 2019). Cumulative assessments encourage students to retrieve information from previous assessments, thus spacing out their learning.
  • Have students mix up their practice. (Dunlosky, 2013; Agarwal, 2019). If students are learning two or three new skills, have them practice them all together rather than one at a time. Not only does this allow students to practice specific skills it also requires students to decide which skill to apply given the context (Ambrose, 2010).