Description || Implications || Examples || References                                        Other Learning Findings


Spacing out repetition is more effective for learning than is practicing an idea over a single period (even if it is longer than each of the many repetitions). Interleaving the practice of problems types results in greater learning gains than asking students to do the same type of problem over and over (massed practice). Interleaving increases students' ability to discriminate between different problem types. 

  • Space how often content/concepts are reviewed or recalled across weeks and months.
  • Administer cumulative problem sets and exams throughout the semester.
  • Review concepts covered in previous class periods/modules at the beginning of each class.
  • Rearrange the order of practice problems in problem sets and exams as opposed to ordering problems by type.

18.03 Differential Equations  Laurent Demanet: 

Each problem set contains two parts. Part A contains problems directly related to the current unit. Part B, however, typically requires the application of all methods covered up to date as well as new ones allowing students to apply previously learned concepts periodically. In addition, the final for this class is cumulative. Problem sets in 18.01, 18.02 and 18.03 are also structured this way.

7.03 Genetics | Gerry Fink & Peter Reddien:

Halfway through the semester, students were assigned a "Lab Practical Assignment" which combined more than half of the concepts covered in the semester, presented as a multi-step simulated laboratory assignment. In this assignment, students were provided with a set of mutant strains isolated after a genetic screen. Using a genetics experiment simulator, StarGenetics, students performed a series of genetic analyses covered throughout the semester to uncover the genetic basis for these mutations.   


Key resource:

  • Roediger, H. L., & Pyc, M. A. (2012). Inexpensive techniques to improve education: Applying cognitive psychology to enhance educational practice. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 1(4), 242–248. PDF


  • Bahrick, H. P., & Phelps, E. (1987). Retention of Spanish vocabulary over 8 years. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 13(2), 344–349. DOI 
  • Bird, S. (2010). Effects of distributed practice on the acquisition of second language English syntax. Applied Psycholinguistics, 31(04), 635–650. DOI
  • Carpenter, S. K., Cepeda, N. J., Rohrer, D., & Kang, S. (2012). Using spacing to enhance diverse forms of learning: Review of recent research and implications for instruction. Educational Psychology24(3), 369–378. DOI
  • Carpenter, S. K., & Pashler, H. (2009). Using tests to enhance 8th grade students' retention of US history facts. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23(6), 760 - 771. DOI
  • Cepeda, N. J., Pashler, H., Vul, E., Wixted, J. T., & Rohrer, D. (2006). Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 132(3), 354–380. DOI
  • Cepeda, N. J., Vul, E., Rohrer, D., Wixted, J. T., & Pashler, H. (2008). Spacing effects in learning a temporal ridgeline of optimal retention. Psychological Science, 19(11), 1095–1102. DOI
  • Goode, M. K., Geraci, L., & Roediger, H. L. (2008). Superiority of variable to repeated practice in transfer on anagram solution. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 15(3), 662–666. DOI
  • Jacoby, L. L., Wahlheim, C. N., & Coane, J. H. (2010). Test-enhanced learning of natural concepts: Effects on recognition memory, classification, and metacognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 36(6), 1441–1451. DOI
  • Kang, S., & Pashler, H. (2012). Learning painting styles: Spacing is advantageous when it promotes discriminative contrast. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 26(1), 97–103DOI 
  • Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. (2007). Expanding retrieval practice promotes short-term retention, but equally spaced retrieval enhances long-term retention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33(4), 704–719. DOI 
  • Kristin H Mayfield, P.N.C. (2002). The effects of cumulative practice on mathematics problem solving. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 35(2), 105–123. DOI 
  • Kornell, N., & Bjork, R. A. (2008). Learning concepts and categories. Is spacing the “enemy of induction?” Psychological Science, 19(6), 585–592. DOI 
  • Moulton, C.-A. E., Dubrowski, A., Macrae, H., Graham, B., Grober, E., & Reznick, R. (2006). Teaching surgical skills: what kind of practice makes perfect?: a randomized, controlled trial. Annals of Surgery, 244(3), 400–409. DOI 
  • Pyc, M. A., & Rawson, K. A. (2009). Testing the retrieval effort hypothesis: Does greater difficulty correctly recalling information lead to higher levels of memory? Journal of Memory and Language, 60(4), 437–447. DOI 
  • Rohrer, D. (2012). Interleaving helps students distinguish among similar concepts. Educational Psychology Review, 24(3), 355–367. DOI 
  • Rohrer, D., & Taylor, K. (2006). The effects of overlearning and distributed practice on the retention of mathematics knowledge. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20(9), 1209–1224. DOI 
  • Sobel, H. S., Cepeda, N. J., & Kapler, I. V. (2011). Spacing effects in real‐world classroom vocabulary learning. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25(5), 763–767. DOI 
  • Taylor, K., & Rohrer, D. (2010). The effects of interleaved practice. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24(6), 837–848. DOI 
  • Wahlheim, C. N., Dunlosky, J., & Jacoby, L. L. (2011). Spacing enhances the learning of natural concepts: an investigation of mechanisms, metacognition, and aging. Memory and Cognition, 39(5), 750–763. DOI