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Highlighting and Its Relation to Distributed Study and Students’ Metacognitive Beliefs


Use of highlighting is a prevalent study strategy among students, but evidence regarding its benefit for learning is mixed. We examined highlighting in relation to distributed study and students’ attitudes about highlighting as a study strategy. Participants read a text passage twice while highlighting or not, with their readings either distributed or massed, and followed by a week-delayed test. An overall benefit of highlighting occurred, with highlighting being especially beneficial with massed readings of the passages. Importantly, highlighting did not impair knowledge of non-highlighted information. Interestingly, those students reporting that they did not think highlighting was beneficial or were unsure about its benefits actually benefitted more from highlighting than did students who were pro-highlighting. Overall, our results indicate that under some conditions, highlighting can be a beneficial study strategy for learning and argue for students being trained in how to optimize the potential benefits of their highlighting behavior.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    As a separate manipulation, we also explored whether the benefits of testing (Roediger and Karpicke 2006) might interact with highlighting. Specifically, participants were given an immediate test on six of the twelve fill-in-the-blank questions shortly after the second reading of the passage. All twelve questions were then tested after the 1-week delay, allowing us to assess the benefits of the earlier test. Although we observed a large benefit of testing, F(1, 180) = 102.99, MSE = 4.24, p < 0.001, with keywords tested immediately remembered significantly better on the delayed test (M = 0.47, SE = 0.02) than were keywords not tested immediately (M = 0.26, SE = 0.02), the effect of testing did not interact with either the spacing (p = 0.83) or highlighting (p = 0.33) manipulations. Consequently, for the sake of succinctness, and because educators are most likely to be interested in how highlighting affects long-term learning and performance, we collapsed all data from the tested versus non-tested conditions and report only one score to reflect the week-delayed final recall performance.


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We thank John Nestojko and Gabriela Pocasangre for their contributions to this project. This research was supported by Grant 29192G from the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

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Correspondence to Carole L. Yue.

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Yue, C.L., Storm, B.C., Kornell, N. et al. Highlighting and Its Relation to Distributed Study and Students’ Metacognitive Beliefs. Educ Psychol Rev 27, 69–78 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-014-9277-z

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  • Highlighting
  • Spacing
  • Text marking
  • Metacognitive beliefs about study strategies