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Spacing: Which students benefit from it the most?

Spacing: Which students benefit from it the most?

3 min read
  • Spacing & Interleaving

One of the best learning strategies a student can use to enhance their memory is spacing. This technique involves learning and revisiting information regularly, as opposed to cramming it all the night before. Research has shown that there are many benefits of using this strategy, but do all students benefit from it the same? 

Let’s take a look at what spacing is, what the research shows, which students get the most from it, and some ways you can encourage them to use it…

What is Spacing?

The “Spacing Effect” is one of the longest and most enduring findings in cognitive psychology. It was first mentioned by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885 who found that people tend to forget large amounts of information if they only learn it once. Therefore, revisiting content little and often is found to be more effective than studying it all at once. 

Why is this? Well, spacing out revision sessions allows students to forget the material. Then, when the time comes to revisit the information, they must relearn it. This process is key to remembering information in the long term, as each “forgetting and relearning” cycle helps embed the memory trace further.

What does research say about Spacing?

In a previous study, students completed an online 12-week self-led learning programme, which included an end-of-unit quiz each week. To measure the amount of spacing each student did, the researchers calculated the number of sessions it took the student to complete the course. 

When looking at the students’ results, the researchers found that increased spacing was related to better test score and that those who performed better at the end of the year were more likely to space out their learning.

A really interesting additional finding in this study was that students who were struggling were least likely to have utilised the Spacing Effect. So, frustratingly, the students who may benefit the most from it are the same who are least likely to use it.

Therefore, it is important to encourage these students (and especially struggling students, or those who would not naturally think to do it) to space out their learning. But how can we do this?

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How to encourage students to use Spacing

Tell them about the benefits 

Spacing out your learning is not an easy thing to do, as it can be very time consuming and require a lot of planning. Therefore, if students are not explicitly taught about the benefits, it can be very hard to encourage them to do it. 

One way to overcome this is by not only explaining the benefits to them but by also mentioning research that shows the impact that spacing has on students’ grades. For example, in a previous study, researchers found that spacing can improve performance by between 10% to 30%, which represents a bump in grades most students would want.

Help them structure their revision 

Students often find it difficult to organise their revision, which might discourage them from spacing out their learning. One way to overcome this is by helping them schedule their sessions. 

You can do this by explaining to them that they should determine which topic to revisit depending on how far away each exam is. It might also be helpful to use this rough guideline which suggests how big the gaps should be between each session, depending on how far away the exam is – but remember it is just that: a rough guideline. 

How Far Away The Test Is7 Days35 Days70 Days350 Days
Gap Between Revision Sessions3 Days8 Days12 Days27 Days

Get their parents/guardians involved 

Explaining some of the benefits of spacing to parents can help them encourage their children to use this technique when studying at home after school. For more ways on how parents can help their child revise, see this blog

Final thoughts

Spacing is a very effective studying technique – but not all students do it, and researchers found that students who use this strategy tend to perform better. However, students who don’t space out their learning are the ones who might benefit from using this technique the most. 

It is therefore important to try and encourage students to use spacing. Some ways of doing this include explaining the benefits, helping students structure their revision and getting their parents involved.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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