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The Power of Successive Relearning: Improving Performance on Course Exams and Long-Term Retention


Practice tests and spaced study are both highly potent for enhancing learning and memory. Combining these two methods under the conditions in which they are most effective (i.e., practice tests that invoke successful retrieval from long-term memory and spacing study across days) yields a promising learning technique referred to as successive relearning. Given the obvious implications of successive relearning for promoting student learning and the voluminous literatures on testing and spacing more generally, surprisingly few studies have evaluated successive relearning, and none have done so in an authentic educational context. The two experiments reported here establish the potency of a successive relearning intervention for enhancing student learning by demonstrating meaningful improvements in course exam performance and on long-term retention tests.

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  1. 1.

    Based on our post-experiment scoring of participants’ responses, the accuracy of the responses that participants judged as completely correct across all RMF trials in all sessions was 89 % (SE = 2). The accuracy of responses participants judged as completely correct in “Experiment 2” was similar (M = 80 %, SE = 2).

  2. 2.

    Data collection for Experiment 1 occurred during a fall semester and in a spring semester for Experiment 2. Due to differences in the second half of the course schedule for these two semesters due to Spring Break and to some modifications the instructor made to course content later in the semester, we did not implement the full 14-session schedule in Experiment 2.

  3. 3.

    Based on analysis of the session dates in the program-internal data files, participants showed high levels of compliance with the intended schedule for Sessions 1–6, with an average of 2.4, 4.9, 2.2, 4.7, and 2.2 days (SEs = 0.2-0.4) between consecutive sessions (cf. the intended lags of 2, 5, 2, 5, and 2 days, as shown in Table 3).


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Author information

Correspondence to Katherine A. Rawson.

Additional information

This research was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant #R305A080316 to Kent State University. Opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.



Table 6

Table 6 Performance on outcome measures in each condition for each group, Experiment 1

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Rawson, K.A., Dunlosky, J. & Sciartelli, S.M. The Power of Successive Relearning: Improving Performance on Course Exams and Long-Term Retention. Educ Psychol Rev 25, 523–548 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-013-9240-4

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  • Successive relearning
  • Testing effect
  • Spacing effect
  • Student learning
  • Retention