Avoidance of Overlearning Characterizes the Spacing Effect

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Spacing, Massing, Overlearning, Retention, Learning

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The spacing of a fixed amount of study time across multiple sessions usually increases subsequent test performance—a finding known as the spacing effect. In the spacing experiment reported here, subjects completed multiple learning trials, and each included a study phase and a test. Once a subject achieved a perfect test, the remaining learning trials within that session comprised what is known as overlearning. The number of these overlearning trials was reduced when learning trials were spaced across multiple sessions rather than massed in a single session. In addition, the degree to which spacing reduced overlearning predicted the size of the spacing effect, which is consistent with the possibility that spacing increases subsequent recall by reducing the occurrence of overlearning. By this account, overlearning is an inefficient use of study time, and the efficacy of spacing depends at least partly on the degree to which it reduces the occurrence of overlearning.

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European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, v. 21, issue 7, p. 1001-1012