The Effects of Overlearning and Distributed Practice on the Retention of Mathematics Knowledge

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In two experiments, 216 college students learned to solve one kind of mathematics problem before completing one of various practise schedules. In Experiment 1, students either massed 10 problems in a single session or distributed these 10 problems across two sessions separated by 1 week. The benefit of distributed practise was nil among students who were tested 1 week later but extremely large among students tested 4 weeks later. In Experiment 2, students completed three or nine practise problems in one session. The additional six problems constituted a strategy known as overlearning, but this extra effort had no effect on test scores 1 or 4 weeks later. Thus, long‐term retention was boosted by distributed practise and unaffected by overlearning. Unfortunately, most mathematics textbooks rely on a format that emphasises overlearning and minimises distributed practise. An easily adopted alternative format is advocated.

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Applied Cognitive Psychology, v. 20, issue 9, p. 1209-1224