Educational Psychology Review

, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 369–378 | Cite as

Using Spacing to Enhance Diverse Forms of Learning: Review of Recent Research and Implications for Instruction

  • Shana K. CarpenterEmail author
  • Nicholas J. Cepeda
  • Doug Rohrer
  • Sean H. K. Kang
  • Harold Pashler
Review Article


Every day, students and instructors are faced with the decision of when to study information. The timing of study, and how it affects memory retention, has been explored for many years in research on human learning. This research has shown that performance on final tests of learning is improved if multiple study sessions are separated—i.e., “spaced” apart—in time rather than massed in immediate succession. In this article, we review research findings of the types of learning that benefit from spaced study, demonstrations of these benefits in educational settings, and recent research on the time intervals during which spaced study should occur in order to maximize memory retention. We conclude with a list of recommendations on how spacing might be incorporated into everyday instruction.


Memory Distributed practice Spacing effect 



This work was supported by a collaborative activity award from the James S. McDonnell Foundation, by the Office of Naval Research (grant N00014-10-1-0072), by the Institute of Education Sciences (US Department of Education grant R305B070537 to H. Pashler and grant R305A110517 to D. Rohrer), and by the National Science Foundation (Center Grant SBE-0542013).


  1. Bahrick, H. P. (1979). Maintenance of knowledge: questions about memory we forget to ask. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 108, 296–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bahrick, H. P., & Phelps, E. (1987). Retention of Spanish vocabulary over eight years. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 13, 344–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bahrick, H. P., Bahrick, L. E., Bahrick, A. S., & Bahrick, P. E. (1993). Maintenance of foreign language vocabulary and the spacing effect. Psychological Science, 4, 316–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Balota, D. A., Duchek, J. M., & Logan, J. M. (2007). Is expanded retrieval practice a superior form of spaced retrieval? A critical review of the extent literature. In J. S. Nairne (Ed.), The foundations of remembering: essays in honor of Henry L. Roediger III (pp. 83–105). London: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  5. Berger, S. A., Hall, L. K., & Bahrick, H. P. (2008). Stabilizing access to marginal and submarginal knowledge. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 5, 438–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bird, S. (2010). Effects of distributed practice on the acquisition of second language English syntax. Applied PsychoLinguistics, 31, 635–650.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bjork, R. A. (1979). Information-processing analysis of college teaching. Educational Psychologist, 14, 15–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bloom, K. C., & Shuell, T. J. (1981). Effects of massed and distributed practice on the learning and retention of second-language vocabulary. Journal of Educational Research, 74, 245–248.Google Scholar
  9. Carpenter, S. K., & DeLosh, E. L. (2005). Application of the testing and spacing effects to name-learning. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19, 619–636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carpenter, S. K., Pashler, H., Wixted, J. T., & Vul, E. (2008). The effects of tests on learning and forgetting. Memory and Cognition, 36, 438–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Carpenter, S. K., Pashler, H., & Cepeda, N. J. (2009). Using tests to enhance 8th grade students’ retention of US history facts. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 760–771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 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, 354–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 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, 1095–1102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cepeda, N. J., Coburn, N., Rohrer, D., Wixted, J. T., Mozer, M. C., & Pashler, H. (2009). Optimizing distributed practice: theoretical analysis and practical implications. Experimental Psychology, 56, 236–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cull, W. L. (2000). Untangling the benefits of multiple study opportunities and repeated testing for cued recall. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 14, 215–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cull, W. L., Shaughnessy, J. J., & Zechmeister, E. B. (1996). Expanding the understanding of the expanding-pattern-of-retrieval mnemonic: toward confidence in applicability. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 2, 365–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dempster, F. N. (1987). Time and the production of classroom learning: discerning implications from basic research. Educational Psychologist, 22, 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dempster, F. N. (1988). The spacing effect: a case study in the failure to apply the results of psychological research. American Psychologist, 43, 627–634.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dempster, F. N. (1989). Spacing effects and their implications for theory and practice. Educational Psychology Review, 1, 309–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dillon, S. (2008). Survey finds teenagers ignorant on basic history and literature questions. The New York Times, A16.Google Scholar
  21. Donovan, J. J., & Radosevich, D. J. (1999). A meta-analytic review of the distribution of practice effect: now you see it, now you don't. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84, 795–805.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ebbinghaus, H. (1885/1913). Memory (H. A. Ruger & C. E. Bussenius, Transl.). New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.Google Scholar
  23. Fishman, E. J., Keller, L., & Atkinson, R. C. (1968). Massed versus distributed practice in computerized spelling. Journal of Educational Psychology, 59, 290–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Glenberg, A. M. (1976). Monotonic and nonmonotonic lag effects in paired-associate and recognition memory paradigms. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 15, 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Halpern, D. F. (2008, March). 25 learning principles to guide pedagogy and the design of learning environments. Paper distributed at the keynote address at the Bowling Green State University Teaching and Learning Fair. Bowling Green, OHGoogle Scholar
  26. Hintzman, D. L. (1969). Recognition time: effects of recency, frequency, and the spacing of repetitions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 79, 192–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hintzman, D. L. (1974). Theoretical implications of the spacing effect. In R. L. Solso (Ed.), Theories in cognitive psychology: The Loyola symposium (pp. 77–97). Potomac: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  28. Jones, H. E. (1923). Experimental studies of college teaching. Archives of Psychology, 68, 1–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kahana, M. J., & Howard, M. W. (2005). Spacing and lag effects in free recall of pure lists. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 12, 159–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L., III (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, 704–719.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Landauer, T. K., & Bjork, R. A. (1978). Optimum rehearsal patterns and name learning. In M. M. Gruneberg, P. E. Morris, & R. N. Sykes (Eds.), Practical aspects of memory (pp. 625–632). London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  32. Logan, J. M., & Balota, D. A. (2008). Expanded vs. equal interval spaced retrieval practice: exploring different schedules of spacing and retention interval in younger and older adults. Aging, Neuropsychology, & Cognition, 15, 257–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Melton, A. W. (1970). The situation with respect to the spacing of repetitions and memory. Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior, 9, 596–606.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Metcalfe, J., Kornell, N., & Son, L. K. (2007). A cognitive-science based programme to enhance study efficacy in a high and low risk setting. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 19, 743–768.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 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, 400–409.Google Scholar
  36. Nelson, T. O. (1985). Ebbinghaus’s contribution to the measurement of retention: savings during relearning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 11, 472–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pashler, H., Bain, P., Bottge, B., Graesser, A., Koedinger, K., McDaniel, M., & Metcalfe, J. (2007). Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning (NCER 2007-2004). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Research, Institute of Education Sciences, U. S. Department of Education. Retrieved from
  38. Pashler, H., Rohrer, D., Cepeda, N. J., & Carpenter, S. K. (2007). Enhancing learning and retarding forgetting: choices and consequences. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14, 187–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pyc, M. A., & Rawson, K. (2007). Examining the efficiency of schedules of distributed retrieval practice. Memory and Cognition, 35, 1917–1927.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Rea, C. P., & Modigliani, V. (1985). The effect of expanded versus massed practice on the retention of multiplication facts and spelling lists. Human Learning: Journal of Practical Research & Applications, 4, 11–18.Google Scholar
  41. Rea, C. P., & Modigliani, V. (1987). The spacing effect in 4- to 9-year-old children. Memory and Cognition, 15, 436–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Reynolds, J. H., & Glaser, R. (1964). Effects of repetition and spaced review upon retention of a complex learning task. Journal of Educational Psychology, 55, 297–308.Google Scholar
  43. Rohrer, D. (2009). The effects of spacing and mixing practice problems. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 40, 4–17.Google Scholar
  44. Rohrer, D., & Pashler, H. (2010). Recent research on human learning challenges conventional instructional strategies. Educational Researcher, 39, 406–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rohrer, D., & Taylor, K. (2006). The effects of overlearning and distributed practice on the retention of mathematics knowledge. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20, 1209–1224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rohrer, D., & Taylor, K. (2007). The shuffling of mathematics practice problems boosts learning. Instructional Science, 35, 481–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Seabrook, R., Brown, G. D. A., & Solity, J. E. (2005). Distributed and massed practice: from laboratory to classroom. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19, 107–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sobel, H. S., Cepeda, N. J., & Kapler, I. V. (2011). Spacing effects in real-world classroom vocabulary learning. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25, 763–767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Taylor, K., & Rohrer, D. (2010). The effect of interleaving practice. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 837–848.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Tiedeman, H. R. (1948). A study in retention of classroom learning. The Journal of Educational Research, 41, 516–531.Google Scholar
  51. Toppino, T. C. (1991). The spacing effect in young children’s free recall: support for automatic process explanations. Memory and Cognition, 19, 159–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Toppino, T. C., & DeMesquita, M. (1984). Effects of spacing repetitions on children’s memory. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 37, 637–648.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Toppino, T. C., & DiGeorge, W. (1984). The spacing effect in free recall emerges with development. Memory and Cognition, 12, 118–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Verkoeijen, P. P. J. L., Rikers, R. M. J. P., & Özsoy, B. (2008). Distributed rereading can hurt the spacing effect in text memory. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 22, 685–695.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Willingham, D. T. (2002). Allocating student study time: massed vs. distributed practice. American Educator, 47, 37–39.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shana K. Carpenter
    • 1
    Email author
  • Nicholas J. Cepeda
    • 2
  • Doug Rohrer
    • 3
  • Sean H. K. Kang
    • 4
  • Harold Pashler
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychology and LaMarsh Centre for Child and Youth ResearchYork UniversityTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA
  4. 4.Department of EducationDartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CaliforniaSan DiegoUSA

Personalised recommendations