The Effect of Interleaving Practice

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Previous research shows that interleaving rather than blocking practice of different skills (e.g. abcbcacab instead of aaabbbccc) usually improves subsequent test performance. Yet interleaving, but not blocking, ensures that practice of any particular skill is distributed, or spaced, because any two opportunities to practice the same task are not consecutive. Hence, because spaced practice typically improves test performance, the previously observed test benefits of interleaving may be due to spacing rather than interleaving per se. In the experiment reported herein, children practiced four kinds of mathematics problems in an order that was interleaved or blocked, and the degree of spacing was fixed. The interleaving of practice impaired practice session performance yet doubled scores on a test given one day later. An analysis of the errors suggested that interleaving boosted test scores by improving participants' ability to pair each problem with the appropriate procedure.

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Applied Cognitive Psychology, v. 24, issue 6, p. 837-848