Instructional Science

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 373–388 | Cite as

The lag effect in secondary school classrooms: Enhancing students’ memory for vocabulary

  • Carolina E. Küpper-TetzelEmail author
  • Edgar Erdfelder
  • Oliver Dickhäuser


Educators often face serious time constraints that impede multiple repetition lessons on the same material. Thus, it would be useful to know when to schedule a single repetition unit to maximize memory performance. Laboratory studies revealed that the length of the retention interval (i.e., the time between the last learning session and the final memory test) dictates the optimal lag between two learning sessions. The present study tests the generalizability of this finding to vocabulary learning in secondary school. Sixth-graders were retaught English–German vocabulary after lags of 0, 1, or 10 days and tested 7 or 35 days later. In line with our predictions, we found that the optimal lag depends on the retention interval: Given a 7-day retention interval, students performed best when relearning occurred after 1 day. When vocabulary was tested after 35 days, however, students benefited from lags of both 1 and 10 days. Model-based analyses show that enhanced encoding processes and stronger resistance to forgetting—but not better retrieval processes—underlie the benefits of optimal lag. Our findings have practical implications for classroom instruction and suggest that review units should be planned carefully by taking the time of the final test into consideration.


Lag effect Long-term memory Secondary school students Classroom-based learning Vocabulary learning 



The authors express their gratitude to the school principal, Mr. Michael Hohenadel, to the teachers, and the students of the Elisabeth secondary school in Mannheim for making this study possible. We thank the graduate students of the first author’s service learning seminar, Dagmar Klein, Martin Knab, Sharmila Pushpakanthan, Sonja Sobott, and Sarah Zelt, for data collection and four anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carolina E. Küpper-Tetzel
    • 1
    Email author
  • Edgar Erdfelder
    • 1
  • Oliver Dickhäuser
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologySchool of Social Sciences, University of MannheimMannheimGermany
  2. 2.Department of PsychologySchool of Social Sciences, University of MannheimMannheimGermany

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